North Coast crab fishermen may be out of work for half of the summer due to a recent federal court decision.
Known as the Larocque decision, the Federal Court of Appeal has ruled it illegal for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to pay for scientific research by selling any of the fishery resources collected during that research.
Since 2000 crabs have been protected during the moult, when they have soft shells and are breeding. At the time, DFO imposed fixed closure dates from March 1 to August 1, but Geoff Gould, the executive director of the Area A Crab Association, said the six-month closure was deemed too conservative.
So soft shell testing system began in 2001 and since then licensed crab vessel owners trained themselves and their crew on how to collect the data and have chartered their boats for research purposes.
After reviewing the data, a shorter closure period was allowed and an average of 67 fishing days per season were gained.
But DFO is no longer able to pay for this research by allowing crabbers to keep and sell their catch during the research period. The ruling, which was based on an action brought by a New Brunswick fisherman who objected to the Minister of Fisheries paying for services with assets that did not belong to him, but to the public, was handed down in June 2006.
Mr. Gould says the result is that Area A crab fishermen are losing 2.5 to 3 months of a fishery that generates $22-million in revenue annually.
Not only that, but the soft shell tests allow crab fishermen to start the fishery at the moment when crabs’ shells are at the shiniest and hardest, bringing in a better price on the market.
Mr. Gould has been told that DFO does not have the budget to pay for the research any other way.
This spring, four Association vessels volunteered to collect data at their own expense. The data indicates a mid to late June opening may be justified.
The Association will do another test soon at a cost of $2,500 a day.
Mr. Gould says the crab fishermen pay more than their share of running the fishery and expects DFO to pick up the cost in the future.
He says that the cost of the data gathering is basic science about the resource that costs about $100,000. He feels sure DFO could manage to find that amount in its $1-billion budget.
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