Captains of charter tuna boats in PEI are hoping for an exemption from mackerel closures

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NORTH LAKE, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND — A sport fishing industry synonymous with Prince Edward Island is hoping for an exception to the recent closure of the Atlantic mackerel fishery, which is its main source of bait.

NORTH LAKE, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND — A sport fishing industry synonymous with Prince Edward Island is hoping for an exception to the recent closure of the Atlantic mackerel fishery, which is its main source of bait.

Troy Bruce, chairman of the PEI Tuna Charter Association, says the commercial closure is a problem for charter boat captains on the island who rely on mackerel as live bait to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna.

In March, with mackerel stocks severely depleted, Secretary of Fisheries Joyce Murray announced the closure of these fisheries in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

“If we’re not allowed to use live mackerel, it’s going to be very difficult for us to actually fish a tuna on a charter,” Bruce said in an interview earlier this week.

He said his association’s 15 charter boat captains must use dead bait or simply pull a line with a bait, a method known as trolling.

He said the alternative methods aren’t nearly as effective at catching the huge fish, which can grow to over 1,000 pounds.

Bruce noted that sport fishermen from around the world have long recognized Canada’s smallest province as a premier destination for rod and reel tuna fishing.

“For people who are interested in deep-sea fishing, it’s a dream trip to the PEI,” he said. “Tuna is part of our culture here.”

Bruce now wonders if the fascination will last long-term as the odds of catching a big tuna diminish.

Noting that recreational tuna fishing is catch and release, he is optimistic that something can be worked out under an exemption that allows recreational fishing participants to catch 20 mackerel per person.

He said charter boats are limited to catching three tuna each day during the July 15-October 31 season, and with up to six customers per boat they ask for a limit of 20 mackerel per boat.

PEI Fisheries Secretary Jamie Fox supports the association’s stance, Bruce said.

In an email, Fox’s department confirms that a letter was sent to Murray this week advocating similar access to mackerel recreational fishing for the tuna charter industry, which is estimated to be worth $6 million to the island’s economy US dollars per year.

“It is the minister’s hope that the federal government will be open to this exception as the PEI works towards an economic recovery,” the email said.

But in an email Friday, Murray’s press secretary, Claire Teichman, gave no indication that the application would be considered, simply repeating the federal minister’s reasons for implementing the mackerel closure.

“Southern Gulf spring herring and Atlantic mackerel are two stocks that are in the critical zone,” Teichman said. “The fisheries have a significant impact on the health of Atlantic mackerel stocks and limiting fishing pressure will help protect younger, spawning fish, which are at the lowest levels on record.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 10, 2022.

– By Keith Doucette in Halifax

The Canadian Press


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