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Island women join fishermen's fight against herring trawlers

December 06, 2007

Working Waterfront
December 2007
by Bob Gustafson
Found at: Working Waterfront


Island women join fishermen’s fight against herring trawlers

A women’s organization has taken a major role in the battle by Prince Edward Island fishermen to keep two large herring trawlers out of the island’s inshore waters.

The New Brunswick trawlers were allowed into the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence by federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Loyola Hearn.

Sara Roach-Lewis, founder of Women for Environmental Sustainability (WES), which claims to represent approximately 300 families, said that the group was founded in 2005 to protect the herring fishery and to protest herring seiners’ entering inshore waters. She noted their success in pushing the seiners to outside 25 fathoms in 2006.

“Since this decision to allow even larger boats, we are continuing our fight, by mobilizing concerned citizens and environmental groups to contact our minister of fishery to ask him to rescind this decision,” Roach-Lewis said.

In late October the fishermen and WES got a reprieve of sorts, according to Ed Frenette, executive director of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association (PEIFA), who said he’d received word that the operator of the JULIANNE III, a 125-foot mid-water trawler, “has decided not to activate its trawl license for the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence for this year.”

Frenette continued: “Given Hearn’s decision, this is only a temporary reprieve and the issue of large vessels, high technology working the southern Gulf will have to be strongly debated at upcoming Gulf Herring Advisory Committee meetings this winter. It will be all inshore groups in the Gulf versus one of the largest fish corporations with DFO and politics making the ultimate decision.”

As for the work of Roach-Lewis and WES Frenette said, “I’m extremely pleased with the efforts of WES and their support on this mid-water trawler issue. PEIFA has worked with WES in the past both on establishing a 25-fathom exclusion zone for purse seiners and examining a long-term vision for the herring and mackerel fisheries in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. Their assistance was invaluable.”

Roach-Lewis says that WES was founded over the issue of conserving the inshore fisheries.

“It all began in ‘03 with the arrival of herring seiners close to our shore,” she said. “They were taking massive amounts of fish, and with small local spawning beds we worried that they could be sustainable in the face of overfishing. You’ll remember that fishermen protested on the wharves and 14 were arrested. There were threats and lawsuits. Fishermen were feeling beaten down.”

Roach-Lewis, who’s married to a fishermen, comes from a long line of fishermen that includes “my father, my grandfather, and my great grandfather.”

What moved her to get involved was her father telling her, “Something needs to be done; somebody needs to do something. Apparently that ‘somebody’ was me.”

She made some phone calls and 760 people showed up at the first rally.

“We worked tirelessly in ‘04. I took a couple of months’ maternity leave, and then went back to work. We were working about 40 hours a week,” Roach-Lewis said.

“Meanwhile, the government said it had science, so in during the winter of ‘05 we studied hard. You could call it Herring 101. We also learned that this is a political issue, and that we were going to have to solve it at the political level.”

Late in October Fisheries and Oceans spokesman Steve Outhouse said, “The Minister has made a decision based on science and conservation, and stands by it.”

As far as Roach-Lewis is concerned, though, DFO has not had the last word. “We’re going to spend the winter months developing and expanding our grassroots campaign into a coalition of community and environmental groups,” she said. “This isn’t just about fishermen. Conserving the inshore fishery affects everyone here. And together we’re going to plan our attack.”

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