Class B lobster licence holders’ future uncertain: Minister silent on Federal Court ruling

·3 min read

GUYSBOROUGH – On Dec. 22 of last year, the Federal Court ruled a judicial review of the decision prohibiting the sale of a Class B lobster licence – in a court case initiated by Nova Scotia lobster fisherman Donald Publicover in 2020 – would be allowed.

Class B licences were introduced in 1976. They have a capacity of 75 traps per licence, roughly one-third the capacity of Category A licences, and cannot be transferred, leaving them to expire upon death of the licence holder.

In notes included in the Dec. 22 decision, the court stated that the so-called Moonlighter Policy was meant to encourage conservation of the stock. Federal Court Justice Elizabeth Heneghan stated in her decision, “In my opinion, the Decision is not responsive to the Applicant’s request to transfer his licence. In particular, the Decision does not explain how allowing the Applicant to transfer his licence to an eligible fisher undermines the goals of the policy.”

The government announced in February that they would not appeal the December decision. Since that time, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not taken any action on the issue.

As this newspaper has reported in the years it has followed this case, time is of the essence for the approximately 80 licence holders involved in this issue. Many of them are in their 70s and 80s and would like to see the issue resolved before it becomes a moot point.

Last week, the law firm Cox & Palmer representing Class B licence holders in this matter issued a news release calling on Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Joyce Murray to act.

“Minister Murray’s unwillingness to meet with us on this issue indicates she is prepared to treat Mr. Publicover’s situation as separate from other Category B licence holders,” said Michel P. Samson of Cox and Palmer. “Unfortunately, Mr. Publicover’s situation is by no means a one-off. These fishermen are suffering as they prepare themselves and their families for hardships that could easily be avoided. They deserve the minister’s attention, and their time is literally running out.”

The news release outlined the importance of a way forward by highlighting the stories of some Class B licence holders.

“One licence holder wants to sell to cover nursing home bills for his wife who recently suffered a stroke. Another licence holder fears that if he passes, his wife will not have the financial means to maintain her current lifestyle. At age 92, he has been fully dependent on the licence for income for the last 36 years. While each individual situation is unique, all Category B licence holders are being impacted in one way or another by the inability to sell their licence,” the release stated.

“We’ve sent letters to the Minister sharing our clients’ personal stories, and there are several more where those came from,” said Samson. “If Minister Murray is prepared to treat these situations individually, I’d like to ask, what level of human suffering meets her standard of exemption.”

The Journal sent a request for comment to Minister Murray’s office and received the following response from her Press Secretary Claire Teichman, “Minister Murray is aware of the situation and plans to make an official decision soon.”

For more information on Class B license holders visit

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal

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