CORNER BROOK A Bay of Islands fisherman says he won’t be surprised if fishers in this area defy the rules set out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans when it comes time to catch halibut next year.
Alan Sheppard lives in York Harbour and fishes out of Little Port. He said the halibut fishery is a big part of the income of fishers around the Bay of Islands and Port au Port Bay, but the conditions they are being forced to work under are becoming more and more ridiculous.
Newfoundland fishers have 24 hours to set, catch and haul their gear. That 24-hour period is set by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in consultation with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union.
“Down here we calls it a farce or a mockery,” said Sheppard.
Not only is it hard for the fishers to work within it, Sheppard said “it’s almost impossible for Fisheries to try and regulate it.”
This year, despite objections from fishers who were concerned about the weather, the season was set for 9 a.m. on June 26 to 9 a.m. on June 27.
Tuesday was a good day, so setting their lines was not a problem, but then a storm system moved in that made retrieval difficult.
“It was just a nightmare,” said Sheppard. “It was a southeast gale.”
He said fishers had no choice but to go out on the water as they had to get the fish.
Sheppard fishes with Garland Childs and Jeff Childs. On retrieval day they were accompanied by Jeff’s nine-year-old son Dawson.
“It wouldn’t fit for anyone to go out through the harbour, but we went.”
Sheppard said the winds in the area were “wicked” and comparable to those that occur in the Wreckhouse.
“They had to tie their dories down so they wouldn’t blow bottom up,” said Sheppard of fishers in some smaller boats.
With conditions what they were, DFO granted the fishers an extension, giving them until 2 p.m. to haul their gear.
Sheppard was lucky and able to do that, but many more weren’t.
He said anyone hauling gear after that were told by DFO enforcement officers patrolling the sea to cut their catch free. Some lost whole catches, valued at up to $3,500.
Sheppard spoke with a DFO enforcement officer on Thursday and told him what DFO did to the fishers was absolutely wrong.
“What they should have done, even if they had to just do it for this area, was give the fishermen another two, three hours to retrieve their gear,” he said.
“The gear wasn’t fishing anymore,” said Sheppard, so the extra time would not have meant any extra catch.
Sheppard said after the gear goes overboard whatever catch you’re going to get will occur within an hour or two.
“Once the bait is gone that’s it,” he said.
“They weren’t poaching. They weren’t throwing bait in the gear. They were just waiting for the wind to drop and retrieve their gear and take their fish home and sell it.”
Instead, he said they were made feel like “criminals” by enforcement officers who stood in their boats with their hands on their sidearms who remained close to the boats until all the gear was cut.
Sheppard said local fishers are really at the mercy of DFO when it comes to the fishery. They can’t take a chance to set or haul gear early because they might be charged and they are putting their lives at risk by going out in bad weather.
“You should be able to go catch a fish when you’re comfortable to go catch a fish.”
At the same time, he said, Quebec fishers have a bigger piece of the quota and can fish for longer.
He also has issue with the size of the quota because of the amount of fish out there.
“There’s more fish now than what was ever seen.”
Sheppard expects there will be a lot of meetings on this over the winter and thinks things will be different next year.
“DFO had the last kick at the can at this one.”
He said fishers will be going out for longer than 24 hours.
“DFO can come if they like, but I’d say there’ll be fishermen going on the water.”