Concerns raised on P.E.I. about risk foreign bait might pose to ecosystem

·4 min read
Bait Masters produces what it calls bait sausages composed of 75 per cent fish byproduct and just 25 per cent whole mackerel, making it a more sustainable choice.  (Kirk Pennell/CBC - image credit)
Bait Masters produces what it calls bait sausages composed of 75 per cent fish byproduct and just 25 per cent whole mackerel, making it a more sustainable choice. (Kirk Pennell/CBC - image credit)

People in P.E.I.'s fishing industry are raising concerns about fish being imported to be used as bait or in the production of some types of alternative bait.

In March, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans put a moratorium on commercial fishing for herring in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and mackerel across the East Coast, saying urgent action is required to allow those fish stocks to recover.

That moratorium led to fears of a shortage of bait for use in the lucrative Maritime lobster fishery.

Mark Prevost, the co-owner of the Bait Masters alternative bait company in Nine Mile Creek, P.E.I., appeared before a federal fisheries committee earlier this week.

He is calling on the federal government to regulate the kinds of fish being used for bait.

"My concern now is that there's a lot more alternative bait companies, and other larger companies trying to make alternative baits, and that the ingredients could be dangerous," Prevost said.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

"The process needs to be changed in Canada, so it's somewhat regulated for alternative bait companies, so that we don't end up with an Asian carp problem, or an invasive species."

He also fears additives could reduce the health or size of fish populations.

Risk assessment

Bait Masters produces what it calls bait sausages made up of 75 per cent fish byproduct and 25 per cent whole mackerel, for use in the lobster and crab fisheries.

Prevost says the Canadian government should adopt rules like the ones used in Maine, which is his company's biggest market.

Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press
Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press

"The Maine Department of Marine Resources, they have a process before any bait gets put in the water to make sure that it's not going to affect anything," Prevost said. 

"Risk assessments need to be done, and studies need to be done. And then on top of that, you need to see if it actually catches fish — a business viability study — and that costs money. It cost us $50,000 to do a field test, a proper field test."

Prevost said companies should also have to show the chain of custody at all stages in the production process, to prove it can guarantee the purity of the ingredients and thus the final product.

Approved bait list

Concerns about foreign bait were also raised by the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association (PEIFA) on Thursday during a presentation to the legislative standing committee on natural resources in Charlottetown.

Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.
Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.

Executive director Molly Aylward called for foreign bait to be regulated to protect the Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystem, as one of eight recommendations the PEIFA made to the committee.

"Any bait introduced to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, not native to this ecosystem, should be considered foreign," Aylward said.

"Introduction of foreign bait into the Gulf creates concerns around the introduction of invasive species to the Gulf, as well as concerns around the health of any species eating the foreign bait."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Aylward said the association would like the province of P.E.I. to start developing an approved bait list for P.E.I., similar to the one used in Maine.

She also called for alternative baits to be regulated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and researched to ensure they are safe.

"Ingredients, although proprietary, should be regulated by either DFO or a third party to ensure there is no undersized fish, illegally caught fish or treated fish," Aylward said.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

The association's marine biologist, Melanie Giffin, gave an example.

"We got a phone call from Norway and they have all kinds of redfish heads that are available if we want to purchase. And so one of my first questions was, 'Are they treated?' And they're treated with red dye," Giffin said.

"We have no idea, if fish in our ecosystem eat that, how that could affect them. Same as if it's from a fish farm, and it's been fed antibiotics, and the lobster eats the antibiotics, and then the public eats a lobster."

Stockpiling bait

Prevost said there was a surge in interest in his company's bait sausages when the moratorium was announced in late March, but said many Islanders have been stockpiling traditional bait since then.

"Definitely double from last year's sales, but not as much as we anticipated, because there's more herring and mackerel now coming in from imports than there was before," Prevost said of Bait Masters sales.

"People are freezing lots of it. So it's more challenging than it was, actually, before the moratorium."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Prevost said the company has a large lobster holding tank at the $1.4-million facility, which is helping to pay the bills.

The production facility was built with a $600,000 loan from the Atlantic Fisheries Fund, with additional help from Finance P.E.I. and private shareholders, many of them fishermen from Nine Mile Creek.

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