November 15th – Grand Manan: Birds and Lobster Wars

I’m on a one week sojourn to Grand Manan Island, which is at the mouth of theBay of Fundy. I’m here both to take in the birds – theIslandif renowned for its variety and the fact that many vagrant species show up here (like the Blue Grosbeak above) – and to take part in the beginning of the lobster fishing season.

The bird part is easy: they’re everywhere. Black-legged Kittiwakes, Common Murres, Parasitic Jaegers, Northern Gannets, and Greater Shearwaters were commonly seen from the ferry. The mainland also had some surprises: the Blue Grosbeak was coming for two weeks to a baited area set out by local birding guru Durlan Ingersoll at the south end of the island; it disappeared  the day before I arrived…naturally. (Durlan, an excellent photographer and the naturalist aboard the Sea Watch Whale Watching tour boat out of Seal Cove, likes to send me tantalizing pictures – like the South Polar Skua that showed up just a few days after I left when I was here in September…..naturally.) There are also a lot of American Robins still around even though it’s the middle of November. A couple of days ago I watched a group of them together with a Northern Cardinal and a Northern Mockingbird busily eating barberry fruit.

Greater Shearwaters are still a common sight on the ferry crossing (they breed in the south Atlantic).

South Polar Skua – seen on several days in early to mid October. -D. Ingersoll

South Polar Skua. -D. Ingersoll

The ‘Day’s Catch’ loaded up with lobster traps ready to go.

Closing off the DFO office in Grand Harbour.

The message is clear.

A lobster trap barricade.

The lobster part is not so easy. I thought it was going to be and, initially, it was. On Monday we spent the better part of a morning baiting and then loading 195 traps onto the Days Catch. Good, honest physical labour. We were now ready for the “good part”: on Opening Day (here it’s always the second Tuesday in November), all the loaded lobster boats line up just outside the various harbours waiting for the signal, at 7:00 AM,  that will send them off at top speed to their favourite trapping sites. There they will disgorge their traps and then race back to the wharf to load a second batch of traps…and then out again. It’s first come first serve – speed and efficiency are of the essence.  It’s an important time for the fishermen as the biggest catches and, hence the most money, are made in the first two weeks of harvesting.

Whale watching boat in the Summer; lobster boat in the Winter.

All the lobster boats are ready and just waiting for good weather.

At the time of loading, even though there were no overt expressions of aggression, it became apparent that all the lobstermen were aware that there were a couple of boats tied up that had come fromNova Scotia. I wasn’t aware of the conflict so was surprised by the events on Tuesday: Opening Day had been postponed due to very high winds but the local lobster fishermen had been busy – they cut the mooring lines of the Nova Scotia boats, setting them adrift and then wouldn’t allow them to come back to the dock, throwing rocks and bottles at them.

The issue is the selling of Grand Manan lobster licences to people living and fishing outside the area. Lobster Committee Chairman Laurence Cook states:
“There’s only 136 lobster licences and now some of those licences are being held by interests outside the district…..So our very tiny economic engine has taken a hit each time one of those goes, there’s less jobs on Grand Manan, there’s less groceries bought here, less fuel, less everything else. It’s a hard hit for a small community like ours.”

There is no question that this tiny community has been hard hit by a loss of jobs as the local fishing industry has declined over the past decade or so and the local folks, quite rightly I think, see this as just another diminution. They want a “residency clause” inserted in the local licences – clauses that already exist in some other fishing communities for the same reasons.

Although the temperature is dropping and will be around freezing tomorrow, the wind (which is still high) is supposed to drop and I’m hoping to get out tomorrow for the big Opening Day event. The boat will be heading offshore so I’ll have my binoculars ready – you just never know what might turn up! (And maybe between now and then there will be some resolution to this situation – Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea will be involved in a conference call today with the local fishermen. But as one told me: “This has been an issue for two years and still nothing has been done.”) In the meantime, the barricade of lobster traps in front of the DFO office remains in place.

On a somewhat more positive note, Joanne fleet sent this to me:
Hi Rick,
Have you seen this adorableness… 

(Actually, I heard this on CBC just the other day. I was thinking of capturing my snoring on tape for comparison……evidently I do snore….)

I have included a few pictures showing the VERY high tides we have been experiencing lately. We loaded traps at high tide – this was a lot easier to do, obviously, when the boat was 29 feet higher than it would have been at low tide!!!!

Water is almost up to the boardwalk of the local lobster pound.

Another lobster pound – you often see vehicles belonging to ‘winklers’ parked at the base of the fence.

The lobster pound at low tide for comparison.

Zeal for life – a spruce works its way up through the planks of the boardwalk.

Usually the water-covered area has just a trickle running through the marsh grass.

VERY high tide – right up to the road edge.


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