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Archived Conflict between mobile and fixed gear herring fishers in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence

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Appendix A – Gillnet Fishing and Purse Seine Fishing

Gillnet Fishing

Gillnetting is a harvesting technique employing fine- mono or multi filament netting that are set like a giant badminton net across the path of migrating herring. In the southern Gulf of St-Lawrence herring fishery, monofilament is greatly favoured (but not exclusively used) in the spring. Many fishermen prefer multifilament in the fall since it is stronger and fishing is done at night and in deeper water. In the Southern Gulf of St.-Lawrence, the top edge of the net is held up by floats, and the bottom is pulled down by a heavy lead line forming a wall in the water that entangles fish by their gills or body.

Gillnet equipmentThese gillnets are "set" to intercept fish during their normal migrations, either along the shore, on the spawning grounds or as they move in and out of an area. Herring nets are typically fished from the bottom up.

Type of fishing differs between the two seasons in the southern Gulf gillnet herring fishery. In the spring, much of the fishing is in shallow (< 20 feet) water; the nets typically go from the bottom to the surface and most nets are fished by anchoring overnight and fished the next morning. In the fall, spawning grounds are searched at night using fish sounders and nets are set only when a school of sufficient size is found. Fall fishing is in much deeper water (30 – 80 feet), so the nets are set from the bottom only part ways to the surface. Herring nets in the fall are typically anchored at least at one end. In some areas, fishermen have anchors and pick-up floats at both ends of the nets. Even with the one-anchor arrangement, the net moves little as the boat drifts down-current and stays there, held by the net’s anchor.

Gillnet fishing techniquesA single "set" may last anywhere from less than an hour to the better part of a night, depending on seasons, currents, the weather, and the number of fish being caught. Usually, in the fall, nets are set just before dead water (at the end of falling or rising tide), and picked up when the tide starts to run heavy again. This is because the tide normally lays the nets down (or at the very least, places a great strain on them) and they don’t fish well. Of course, if set with two anchors, the fisherman has no idea if any fish was caught until the net is pulled.

The entangled fish are pulled up and shaken out of the net and then thrown into the hold. If the catch is not sufficient, the net is then reset, and the process begins again.

The Inshore herring gillnet fleet in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is made up of small vessels, generally under 50 feet in length (approx. 1300 of these vessels are active in both spring and fall seasons). From 100 to 250 vessels may fish on a spawning bed in one night catching between 1000 to 2500 t a night when herring schools are dense. Except for a few bait fishermen that still set by hand, gillnetters now use hydraulic net drums to set and haul their nets (see the picture above). In the southern Gulf, minimum mesh sizes and net size are regulated under the herring management plan. Most spring gillnets mesh sizes range from 2 1/4 inch to 2 1/2 inch and are 13 to 18 fathoms long. The majority of fall gillnets mesh sizes are of 2 5/8 and are 14 to 19 fathoms long. In the Southern Gulf, the spring gillnet season runs from early April to end of June and the fall gillnet season runs from early July to mid-October.

Purse Seine Fishing

Purse seine fishingPurse seining is a type of fishing in which a long rectangular barrier net equipped with floaters on the top and small lead weights at the lower end allowing it to stay in an upright position during fishing. The seine is a large net designed to encircle herring and not to rake the bottom of the ocean floor nor to capture the herring by the gills like in the gillnet fishery. Purse seining for herring can be especially tricky as the entire process is run in the dark of night when herring swim to the surface. No lights are used until the seine is closed.

The entire process starts with the release of the seiner's small boat "skiff". The skiff, which holds one end of the net, encircles the herring school as the net is released from the stern of the seiner. The bottom of net is connected to the purse line cable by large, metal clips called "rings." These also act as weights that sink the net. Once the skiff reaches the seiner, the seine top and bottom lines are handed to the seiner. The skiff then goes to the opposite side of the seiner, attaches to it, and powers away from the seine net to insure that the mass of fish and net do not drift below the seiner.

When the skiff is in place, a winch on the deck of the seiner pulls in both ends of the purse line, closing off the bottom of the seine net like a purse. Once the bottom of the seine is closed, preventing the herring from escaping, deck lights are turned on and one end of the seine net is run through a large, hydraulically driven "powerblock" located at the top of a crane. As the net is lowered through the powerblock, it is stacked on deck in preparation for the next set. This process slowly pulls the portion of the seine net still in the water ship ward, forming a concentrated pocket of herring. To further this procedure, seiners have a long, rubber covered, hydraulically powered roller along one side which is used by the crew to draw in any loose netting, drawing up the bottom of the seine, until the fish as sufficiently concentrated. In the southern Gulf, the crew samples the size composition of the herring contained in the seine to verify if it is within permitted legal size. If size is too small the set may be released and fish are freed up. If the size is adequate, the fish is further concentrated and a submersible pump is lowered into the pocket, pumping fish to a dewatering box then to holds below the deck. The entire process can be repeated a number of times in a single night depending of the presence of herring. As many as 200 tons of fish can be captured during each set. The southern Gulf of St.-Lawrence herring purse seine fleet is made up of 5 vessels, generally 100 feet in length. The 5 vessels can be fishing on a fishing ground in one night. They have been catching a maximum of 600 to 900 t a night due to limitations imposed on them by the processing sector.

In the southern Gulf of St.-Lawrence, all landings by the seiners are subjected to a small fish protocol and herring is sampled and sized for all landings. The seiners conduct most of their fishery in the fall season from early September to the end of November. Fishing activities in the spring have been minimal in recent years and conducted in June in western Cape Breton.

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Appendix B - Terms of Reference



The purpose of this initiative is to establish an independent process that will get the parties to define the issues surrounding the conflict between the Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Eastern New Brunswick (NB) inshore fishers and the NB large seiners, to identify areas of consensus and options for resolving the dispute.


  1. Over the past number of years, there have been disagreements between inshore fishers and the seiner fleets over the conduct and potential impacts of the fishery for herring by seiner vessels.
  2. In August 2003, a number of inshore herring fishers from northeastern NB showed their concerns over the local fall herring seiner fishery at the entrance to the Baie des Chaleurs by attempting to disrupt the seiner fishery. One major confrontation occurred at sea and some low-level confrontations occurred on land. Charges were eventually laid by the RCMP against a small number of inshore fishers.
  3. For several weeks in October and November, the same herring seiners based in northern NB were impeded by PEI inshore fishers from landing their catches at the federal wharf at Souris, PEI. A court injunction was issued by the PEI Supreme Court ordering demonstrators not to block and otherwise interfere with the herring operations at the port
  4. The current multi-year management plan ends on December 31, 2003. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ (DFO) Gulf Small Pelagics Advisory Committee is the forum for discussions of herring issues leading to the preparation and approval of a new multi-year herring management plan. Given the recent conflict, it is unrealistic to expect that the forthcoming meeting of the committee (December 9-10) will produce consensus recommendations for preventing disagreement between these fleets with respect to areas of fishing by the large seiners.


  1. To frame the problem by getting the parties to the conflict to precisely define their concerns and issues, and to submit a written report describing the parties’ positions to the Minister.
  2. To identify areas of consensus between the parties and to offer options that could be considered for resolving the dispute.


  1. The Facilitator will focus his activities on identifying the concerns of each of the inshore groups in Eastern NB, PEI and the large seiners. The Facilitator will also obtain the perspective of the Provinces of NB and PEI.
  2. The Facilitator has no mandate to make recommendations to the Minister on courses of action to resolve this issue.
  3. The Facilitator will not undertake new scientific research, but will instead rely on existing research and reports.


  1. The Facilitator will be required to meet with representatives of the following primary parties (considered as "core") in carrying out his duties:
    • PEI inshore fishers,
    • Association des seiners du Golfe,
    • Maritimes Fishermen’s Union,
    • NB Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, and
    • PEI Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, Aquaculture and Forestry.
  2. The Facilitator may consult other interests he feels may be important to a proper understanding of the issues and conduct of the required work.
  3. The Facilitator will carry out interviews, obtain and examine relevant documents and information to identify and describe the concerns and issues raised by all parties.
  4. The Facilitator will organize meetings with the primary parties either individually, collectively or both at his discretion and likewise, with DFO staff.
  5. The Facilitator will have access, as required and subject to Access to Information and Privacy Acts, to DFO documentation and DFO personnel when seeking information on the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence herring fishery.
  6. The Department’s Gulf Region will provide secretariat service for the work, including assigning experienced technical staff to undertake documentary research, which may be required by the Facilitator as well as respond to requests for information.
  7. The Facilitator will prepare and submit a report to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans on the dispute surrounding the area of fishing by the large seiner fleet in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
  8. The above written report to the Minister will also be provided to the primary parties, in both official languages.
  9. Media: The independent Facilitator may speak to the media on the process being undertaken to scope out the problems between inshore fishers and NB seiners, but not on the closed-door discussions.


  1. The Facilitator’s activities will commence on December 15, 2003, and conclude by January 30, 2004. A preliminary report to the Minister must be completed by January 15, 2004, with a final report submitted no later than January 30, 2004.


  1. The need to clearly articulate the issues/concerns/perspectives of all parties.
  2. Obtaining the most readily available information related to the issues and concerns raised by all parties.
  3. The need to identify possible gaps of information that would be helpful in addressing the concerns and issues of the various parties.
  4. The need to articulate an overall perspective on the issue.


  1. The Facilitator’s costs including travel, accommodations, translation services and meeting facilities will be borne directly by the Department. All other costs will be the responsibility of other agencies, groups and individuals.

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Appendix C – News Release

NR-HQ-03-114E December 4, 2003


Moncton, N.B. – The Honourable Robert G. Thibault, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), today announced the appointment of Allister W. Surette to lead discussions with herring industry representatives and provincial governments on an approach to address the conflict with respect to the herring fishery in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

"It is important that these fact-finding discussions are facilitated by a qualified and independent third party who has knowledge of the issue and who is available to undertake the task within the prescribed time-frame," said Minister Thibault. Mr. Surette is vice-president of Development and Partnerships at l’Université Sainte-Anne – Collège de l’Acadie, in Church Point, Nova Scotia.

Disagreements have been a problem for the past number of years between inshore and large seiner fleets off the northern coast of Prince Edward Island and parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The disputes flared into open conflict two years ago and then again this fall.

"This is an exercise about dialogue and determining the scope of the problem, not an exercise about allocations or access to herring. It is about identifying options that could be considered, bearing in mind that the goal is an orderly fishery in the 2004 season and in the years to come," said Minister Thibault.

Work begins immediately. Mr. Surette will organize meetings with the primary parties, either individually or collectively. The discussions will be aimed at identifying problems and getting the parties to accurately define their concerns and issues with the facilitator’s guidance. The facilitator will use existing research and reports as resource material.

A report is to be drafted and submitted to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans by January 30, 2004 in which the positions of the parties are described and options are presented to resolve the dispute.

"It is not my intent for Mr. Surette to come up with hard and fast solutions to such entrenched disagreements in this exercise," said Minister Thibault. "But I am on record as having advised fishers that their interests will be better served in the short and long term if they begin to work together."

In carrying out his mandate, Mr. Surette will consult with the following representatives: the Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick provincial governments; l’Association des seineurs du Golfe; the Maritimes Fishermen’s Union; and representatives of PEI inshore fishers. Other groups may be consulted at his discretion.

"I encourage all parties to participate in these important discussions. I will certainly give preferential consideration to any mutually agreeable resolution." Minister Thibault said.

- 30 -


Robert (Bob) Allain
Regional Director, Fisheries Management
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Moncton, NB
(506) 851-7752

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Appendix D - MFU Proposed Closure of Miscou Bank

Graphic representing MFU Proposed Closure of Miscou Bank

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Appendix E - PEIFA’S Proposed Closure on the North Coast of P.E.I.

Graphic representing PEIFA’S Proposed Closure on the North Coast of P.E.I.

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