NL fishing vessel owners send a “loud and clear” message to DFO; scuttle these vessel length restrictions

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Note: This article has been updated to correct some information about maximum vessel length rules in Atlantic Canada.


Fishing vessel owners in Newfoundland and Labrador had the opportunity last week to tell Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials what they think of the rules that restrict the length of vessels they can use.

They say it’s time to scuttle the rule that limits inshore boats to a maximum length of 39′ 11”.

Jason Sullivan, president of the Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL), said in a press release that there was “overwhelming support” for a rule change from fishermen who attended the seven virtual meetings hosted by DFO last week.

“The message from the Coastal Fleet is clear that the days of cutting boats are over,” Sullivan said.

Coastal fishing captains have long argued that fishing vessel length rules are outdated and jeopardize safety at sea.

Maximum Length Overall (LOA) rules are different in other parts of Atlantic Canada. In the Quebec region, the overall length is 50 feet, and in the Gulf region, it is 45 feet. In the Maritimes region, the overall length is 50 feet, except for two sub-fleets. The fixed gear groundfish fleet and the mid-bay scallop fleet are restricted to 35 feet.

DFO has long asserted that the vessel length policy for Newfoundland and Labrador was intended to manage and control fishing capacity.

That was the explanation offered by a DFO official when SaltWire asked last year.

“DFO regulations and policy apply to the proper management and control of fisheries and specify vessel length as a means of managing and controlling fishing capacity, limiting the number of participants on the water, and to limit or allow processing at sea,” a statement said. A DFO official said in an email.

Over the past year, however, several voices have called for change.

Marine engineer Dag Friis wrote several letters to DFO about this.

The boat owned by the Patey brothers of St. Anthony started life as a 42-foot Nova Scotian fishing boat. DFO regulations required the brothers to cut their noses to comply with a maximum measurement of 39’11”. – Contributed

He said regulations that limit boat lengths to less than 40ft have forced owners to build wider boats.

Not only does the extra width reduce fuel efficiency, he told SaltWire in an interview last year, but it makes the boat less stable.

On the downslope of a wave, he said, the wider boat’s stern will move faster than the bow and could force the boat sideways into the next wave.

In this situation, “capsizing is very likely,” he said.

Even fish processors weighed in on the issue last year, saying the current regulations are illogical.

“I think the review of vessel regulations that the House of Commons Fisheries Committee called for in 2018 needs to be done,” said Derek Butler, executive director of the Association of Seafood Processors (ASP).

This year, the ministry seems ready to listen.

Ron Burton, Area Director for DFO’s Eastern and Central Newfoundland Region, told SaltWire that they have decided to put the issue of vessel length rules on the agenda to assess opinion.

“There was no decision to change the policy,” he said, adding that the process of changing a policy would involve many steps.

SaltWire has listened to some of the virtual meetings and it is clear from the feedback offered that fishing vessel owners are hungry for change. Each meeting drew a crowd of 80 or more anglers.

Some, like a fishing business owner from northeast Newfoundland, said they didn’t understand why they were being treated any differently than fishing vessel owners in other provinces.

Changing the rules won’t make everyone buy a 50ft boat, says Jerome Hackett.

Others cited the safety factor, pointing out that many smaller boats stray from shore – up to 50 miles – to fish for crab and turbot.

Travis Jacobs, who operates a business in the 3K fishing area, said anyone fishing in the outer limits of that area goes 50 miles.

He said he thought the maximum length of the ship should be extended to 50ft.

He added that DFO also encourages an early fishery with an early close date for crab, which means fishing in the spring, in more difficult weather conditions.

“The main reason (for the change) is security and the ability to bring the allowed limit of (crab) pots in a safe way,” he said.

Hackett added that giving an inshore boat a license to fish species farther from shore but limiting them to a smaller boat doesn’t make sense.

“It’s like having a car license but only allowed to use a bicycle,” he said.

Whether or not DFO will change the rule remains to be seen.

Comments offered during the virtual meetings will be included in a report of this process.

DFO also plans to gather the views of industry in the province through an email survey of all core business owners.

The email survey question will ask if the core business holder feels that DFO should review the 39’11” vessel length restriction for small inshore craft businesses.

Ultimately, the decision to change the policy will rest with DFO management and the Minister.

However, it is becoming clear that the demand for change will not go away if the current rules are not modified.

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