Lobster fishing inside Halifax harbour will be sharply restricted when the season opens next week as federal authorities move to enforce existing prohibitions.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans will not allow traps to be set within 300 metres of any wharf, pier or boat structure inside the harbour.
The restriction was included in DFO lobster fishing licence conditions for the first time this year at the request of the Halifax Port Authority, which has the same rule on the books.
That’s bad news for Craig Hartlen, a lobster fisherman based in Eastern Passage, a small port on the outer edge of the harbour.
The licence condition effectively eliminates much of what were prime lobster fishing grounds for Hartlen and a half dozen others who regularly fish inside the port at some point during the fall-winter season.
Spots now off limits
“We usually fish the whole of Halifax harbour right up to the [Bedford] basin,” Hartlen said. “We’re not going to be able to fish there anymore. We’ve been fishing there for as long as I can remember.”
Using a chart in the wheelhouse of his fishing boat, he points to places where he usually drops lobster pots. But they are now off limits because they are less than 300 metres from a wharf, jetty or float.
“There’s places up there that are just a rock bottom, or you’re in 12, 15 feet of water,” he said. “You’re not affecting the ships. They can’t even go around there.”
Most are on the Dartmouth side of the harbour.
An existing prohibition
The 300-metre limit has actually been part of port rules for years, but has usually only resulted in a warning.
It’s got more teeth now that it is in licence conditions, which carry penalties for violations that are enforced.
“I’ve asked for the licence conditions to be aligned with our port information guide and the rules and regulations,” said harbour master Adam Parsons, director of marine operations for the Halifax Port Authority.
“The reason for that is the safety of vessels navigating within the harbour,” he said. “There have been some situations where equipment’s been in the way, creating unsafe situations for vessels operating in the harbour.”
In a statement, Fisheries and Oceans said conditions were amended to “ensure unimpeded commercial and naval vessel traffic,” and to conform with port authority regulations that prohibit lobster fishing inside 300 metres of any “berth, designated anchorage, jetty, float or other structure used by watercraft within the Port of Halifax.”
Fisherman says measures are overkill
Hartlen said he and other fishermen always move traps whenever asked, entanglements are rare and authorities have acted unilaterally.
“I think we could have sat down reasonably and discussed where we should put the traps, where we can’t put the traps and talk about it instead of just giving us these conditions where it just takes all our all our bottom,” Hartlen said.
The restriction will prevent fishermen from hauling pots into the harbour during storms offshore, he said.
“It’s not like we were giving them a hard time and they had to worry about us not listening and being in the way because we would not move. But it’s much easier for them just to get rid of us and then not have to deal with us.”
‘Plenty of other space’ in harbour
Parsons acknowledges interference from traps is not a common occurrence but said there have been an increasing number of incidents where a vessel has been restricted from departure or arrival alongside a berth because of pots in the area.
He said the restriction still leaves “plenty of other space” in harbour areas where lobster fishing will not impact other vessels.
“So yes, it would impact certain areas that they may have used in the past, but I go back to the fact that these regulations have been in place in the past and it’s now simply the aligning of DFO licence conditions with our regulations.”
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