BY CRAIG WELSH, The Clarenville Packet
The hunt for lost and abandoned nets in Placentia Bay continues as officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scour the area.
It’s an on-going search because ‘ghost nets’ have always been a problem. However, after DFO closed the fishery in Placentia Bay Mar. 8, they discovered some fishermen left their nets in the water.
Since then, they’ve been tracking down nets and hauling them from the bay. In a week, they’ve pulled 43 nets containing approximately 30,000 pounds of rotting fish. Over 25,000 pounds of it is cod, with another 2,000 pounds each of crab and flounder.
Most of the nets are being found at the bottom of Placentia Bay between Davis Cove to Arnold’s Cove.
Finding out which fishermen owned the nets won’t pose much of a problem for DFO. Fishermen must mark all nets with the registration number of their boats.
The real tangle will be determining why the fishermen still had their gear in the water, despite notification from DFO it had to be removed.
District Supervisor Tilman Biegar said there could be different reasons why the nets were still in the water.
“They were set there by fishermen who were licensed to fish. The question is whether they actually lost them or abandoned them. We’ll be investigating whether any fishermen were negligent in tending their gear,” he said.
Fishermen must report any gear that goes missing. In some cases, it could be from storm damage. However, the high concentration of nets in that part of Placentia Bay is resulting in some nets being cut.
Whether it’s an act of vandalism or just nets getting tangled with each other is something else DFO has to examine.
“When the gear is hauled up, it sometimes gets tangled up, so some fellows will cut the gear. We’re also investigating the possibility of vandalism by local fishermen, or other fishermen, on each other’s gear. It’s a possibility. I’m not saying we’ve proven any of that, but it’s certainly a possibility when you have conflicts like that,” Mr. Biegar said.
If DFO proves any fisherman deliberately abandoned or vandalized nets, then there could be charges. There have already been 11 charges in the last year, with fines as high as $5,000.
The latest round of missing nets is already adding to a busy year for DFO officials in Placentia Bay. Although the recent spat of ghost nets has been drawing the most attention, it’s been a problem in the bay for years. Mr. Biegar said his office spends most of their time tracking down missing nets.
“Before this latest incident the whole issue of lost and abandoned gear in Placentia Bay has been the highest priority issue for us the last year. Most of our resources, in money and time, have been spent dealing with untended gill nets,” he said.
The gill net situation is bad enough that provincial fisheries minister John Efford is entering the fray. He’s threatening to eliminate gill net fishing completely if something isn’t done.
“I can’t stop the use of the nets, but I can stop the fish from being processed. I’ve sent a pretty heavy message over the last couple of days and I’ve certainly got the attention of fishermen. The only authority I have is that if the quality of fish coming in is not going to be dealt with then it won’t be processed. There’s no point bringing it in,” Mr. Efford said.
Mr. Efford dislikes gill nets, blaming them for destroying the fishery in Conception Bay and other parts of Newfoundland. The latest incidents in Placentia Bay are only reinforcing his disdain of the gear.
One of the reasons he dislikes them so much is he believes they bring in an inferior quality fish.
“We’ve got gill nets not being used responsibly. In the marketplace, when it comes to quality of cod, we’ve got the worst reputation in the world. Now that’s a pretty heavy statement, but when it comes to cod, people don’t even want to have a discussion with you,” he said.
However, Mr. Efford said there will be discussions about gill nets this year. He intends to sit down with representatives from the industry, DFO and fishermen and hammer out an agreement about gill net usage. This could mean fewer nets, or limiting the amount of time they can spend in the water.
Mr. Efford knows most fishermen are responsible when using gill nets, but those who are negligent are ruining things for everybody else.
“You only need one bad apple of spoil the barrel. If you’ve got 1,000 fishermen and only 10 per cent of those lose their nets, wouldn’t that destroy it for everybody?” he said.
Mr. Biegar agreed now is a good time to discuss gill net usage in the bay.
“If you look at the number of fishermen licensed to fish in Placentia Bay, most of them are very careful about their nets. But like any business there are some who are less conscientious than other. The time is probably right for some discussion on restricting the use of gill nets with fishermen,” he said.
Mr. Efford said he will have an agreement on gill net usage worked out by this summer.