With thousands of traps lost to Fiona, N.B. lobster fishermen ask for extended season

There are 388 lobster fishermen in Zone 25, with each using 250 traps at a time, according to the Maritime Fishermen's Union. That means around 42,000 traps are unaccounted for as of Monday. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
There are 388 lobster fishermen in Zone 25, with each using 250 traps at a time, according to the Maritime Fishermen's Union. That means around 42,000 traps are unaccounted for as of Monday. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

The union representing lobster fishermen in New Brunswick plans to ask for an extension to the fishing season in light of the loss of tens of thousands of traps during post-tropical storm Fiona.

The fishing season for Zone 25, which includes fishermen along the Northumberland Strait in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, began on Aug. 9 and was scheduled to end on Oct. 12, said Luc LeBlanc, an advisor with the Maritime Fishermen's Union.

However, with early reports those fishermen may have lost about half of all of their lobster traps, LeBlanc said the plan is to ask the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for the season to be extended until at least Oct. 15.

"There's the cost to replace the traps, which is roughly $300 [each], but really the problem is the lobster in the trap — it's lost revenue," he said.

Lobster fishermen in southeastern New Brunswick only have so many traps, "and if half the fleet is missing half the gear, it might be a problem to get the replacements in time," said LeBlanc.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

Fiona hit Atlantic Canada early Saturday morning, bringing 100 km/h winds and storm surges to New Brunswick's southeast coast.

LeBlanc said fishing boats appear to have fared well, with many having been pulled out of the water ahead of time — a lesson learned from Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

Early assessments also indicate the wharves where they land their catches only sustained minor damage.

However, many fishermen didn't have time to take their lobster traps out of the water, or to take them further out to sea to protect them against the powerful storm surges.

"The more time that passes by, the more chance we have to find the gear. Maybe tomorrow we'll have a better idea of where the gear is. As of now probably 50 per cent of lobster traps are missing," he said.

LeBlanc said there are 388 lobster fishermen in Zone 25, with each using 250 traps at a time. That means around 42,000 traps are unaccounted for.

Marielle Torrefranca/CBC
Marielle Torrefranca/CBC

Unlike fishing vessels, traps are normally uninsurable, LeBlanc said.

There is currently no specific government help available for lost traps, however, LeBlanc said that's something the union hopes will be made available to fishermen.

The province has so far announced disaster financial assistance for individuals, small businesses, not-for-profit organizations and municipalities that suffered property damage on Sept. 23 and Sept. 24.

CBC News has asked the Department of Fisheries and Oceans if it's open to extending the season, and is waiting for a response.

LeBlanc said Fiona has also created concerns for the health of the lobster stocks along the Northumberland Strait.

He said the extent of that is still being evaluated, however a lot of lobster — especially smaller lobster — washed up on shore in the storm surges.

"We're a little worried that might have an effect on stocks over the medium and long term," he said, adding that the amount of lobster that fisherman catch might be lower in the last two weeks of the season.

LeBlanc said anyone who comes across a lobster on shore should put it back in the ocean.

"I've been talking to our biologist at [the Maritime Fishermen's Union] and apparently the chances are of survival are slim, but nonetheless it should be given a chance to survive and just put back in the water."