Tuesday, December 7, 2021

A matter of class: lobster fishermen want DFO policy changed

  • November 17 2021
  • By Lois Ann Dort    

COOKS COVE – Chances are, if you looked out over the water between Cooks Cove and Dorts Cove during lobster season these past 70 years, you’d have seen James MacDonald.

Fishing from one of the last open boats left in the area, MacDonald’s height – well above six feet – is easy to mark from the shore, no matter the fog or distance.

MacDonald, a resident of Cooks Cove, got his first lobster licence when he was 12 years old – at a cost of 25 cents. He’ll be 85 this spring and told The Journal he has no plans to retire.

“It’s tremendous exercise in every way,” said MacDonald, adding, “I started out fishing of all kinds and I had to give it up because of where we live here in the head of the bay, there is nothing but lobsters. I still enjoy it and I’m going to go as long as I live, unless something changes.”

But he does have concerns about what will happen to his lobster licence, a Class B, when the day comes that he can no longer fish. Under Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) policy, MacDonald and other Class B licence holders like him, cannot sell or transfer their licence.

“Different people have tried to renew it, but the understanding is now, when you die your licence dies; [it’s] non-transferable. You can’t give it to anybody, or sell it or anything,” said MacDonald.

The Class B lobster licence came into effect in the mid-1970s, when DFO wanted to decrease the number of people in the industry as a conservation measure. At that time, Class A licence holders who made less than 75 per cent of their income from fishing were given Class B licences that only allowed them to fish one-third of the number of pots a Class A licence was allotted.

MacDonald told The Journal, “I had a Class A licence but at that time ... I had to go to work as an electrician because you couldn’t make a living [fishing lobster] at that time. I had a wife and three or four children.”

When his lobster licence was reduced to a Class B, MacDonald was given to understand that when fishing picked up enough to support a family, he could get his Class A licence back, but that didn’t happen. Now, he wants DFO to change the policy on Class B licences, so he can pass it on to his son or sell it.

And MacDonald isn’t the only one who wants DFO policy to change on this matter. A group of Class B fishermen in the Maritimes has been lobbying for change and created a campaign, at FishingForFairness.com, to gain the support and advocacy of the public on this issue.

They said that fishermen in the 1970s had no choice in the classification of their licences. Today, before time makes the issue moot, they would like the last word.