Federal minister defends enforcement since baby eel fishery closure in the Maritimes

 By Michael MacDonald


HALIFAX- The office of federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray is rejecting allegations her department hasn’t done enough to stop poachers from harming the lucrative baby eel fisheries in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

In a statement released late Wednesday, Murray’s office said fisheries officers have continued to enforce a fishing moratorium imposed April 15 amid reports of increasing poaching and violence along tidal rivers in the two provinces.

Some commercial harvesters have come forward to complain that little has been done to stop the fishing, especially during the nearly two-week strike by members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which includes fisheries officers. The strike started four days after the moratorium was imposed.

The tiny, translucent eels, which are worth more than $4,000 per kilogram, are fished at night in tidal rivers as they migrate inland from the ocean each spring. They are typically sold to buyers in Asia where they are grown for food.

On Wednesday, Murray’s office said her department’s officers are enforcing the Fisheries Act and working with the RCMP and other agencies to “combat illegal fishing” of baby eels, which are also known as elvers or glass eels.

“Since the issuance of the Fisheries Management Order on April 15, which closed the elver fishery for a period of 45 days, enforcement efforts have been conducted by fisheries officers to deter and disrupt unauthorized elver harvesting,” the statement said.

“To maintain operational integrity, we do not disclose the number of active officers nor what specific enforcement activities they are undertaking. Fishery officers will continue to enforce the law.”

Since April 15, fisheries officers have made 18 arrests and seized 6.5 kilograms of elvers, one vehicle, 15 dip nets and 22 fish traps, known as fyke nets, in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the statement said.

Last week, Nova Scotia’s representative in the federal cabinet, Sean Fraser, said the public service strike made it difficult for Ottawa to enforce conservation rules. Fraser, a Nova Scotia MP and the federal immigration minister, said the essential services role of fisheries officers who were required to work during the strike was limited to situations where a person’s life was at risk, or something of a similar scale.

Some licence holders in the fishery have been sending photos to the Fisheries Department that allegedly show people fishing for elvers despite the temporary ban.

Last week, the six chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick issued a statement urging Murray to reopen the fishery.

“Our people have a long history of having things taken away by the

government: our resources, our culture, our language, our children, our rights, our lands,” said Chief Gabriel Atwin of Bilijk, also known as Kingsclear First Nation.

According to the chiefs, the Fisheries Department granted the Wolastoqey Nation a 750-kilogram quota for elvers this spring. And when the fishery was shut down, the First Nation had harvested less than a third of its quota, they said.

“Many community members spent significant time and money on equipment and training to earn a modest income from this fishery, and then the season was called off early without any consultation,” said Chief Ross Perley of Neqotkuk, also known as the Tobique First Nation. The chiefs have asked the minister to find a way to compensate the First Nations for their losses.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Steve Craig said he’s worried about the conservation of the species.

“We need a sustainable fishery,” Craig said Thursday following a cabinet meeting.

While the federal government is in charge of conservation, Craig said the province licenses the purchasing and processing of elvers and can put a stop to illegal sales. “Anybody with a buyers licence, they do need to purchase legally caught species and when that’s not done we have the ability to put constraints on licences and to take action,” Craig said. However, he said no fines or penalties have been imposed this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2023.


-With files from Keith Doucette


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