Scotian Shelf snow-crab fishery keeps sustainability certification

Validation in fishery audit, which was ordered after deaths of North Atlantic right whales

Scotian Shelf snow-crab fishery is able to keep its sustainability certification. (Radio-Canada/Martin Toulgoat)

The snow-crab fishery on the Atlantic side of Nova Scotia is keeping its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) environmental sustainability certification.

The validation was contained in an expedited audit of the Scotian Shelf fishery ordered after the deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2017.

Two of those deaths were caused by entanglements in snow-crab gear.

Why certification is important

It’s good news, especially for ports and fishermen on the eastern side of Cape Breton where the bulk of the Scotian Shelf’s annual 11,400-tonne total allowable catch is harvested.

Unlike snow crab caught in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, crab caught on the Scotian Shelf will maintain MSC certification — a stamp of approval that tells consumers the seafood they are buying is caught in an environmentally sustainable manner.

On March 20, the London-based organization suspended its certification of the gulf’s snow crab fishery because it was implicated in the whale deaths.

Although no whales died on the Scotian Shelf, MSC launched an audit because North Atlantic right whales transit the fishing grounds.

‘Certainly it’s positive’

On March 28, SAI Global — which carried out the audit for MSC — concluded “the Scotian Shelf snow crab trap fishery continues to operate as a well-managed and sustainable fishery.”

Osborne Burke runs Victoria Co-Op Fisheries, which processes snow crab from both the Gulf of St Lawrence and the Scotian Shelf.

“Certainly it’s positive when we maintain certification that we worked hard to obtain in the first place,” Burke said. “We’re hopeful with measures in place in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence [in 2018] we’ll see MSC certification returned.”

The SAI Global audit said the Scotian Shelf fishery demonstrated it is taking the right-whale entanglement issue seriously.

Measures to protect whales

“They have demonstrated a willingness to better inform themselves and others about the situation and advocate for measures to minimize the likelihood of interactions and further research into understanding NARW behaviour and options for technical innovation to reduce entanglement in fishing gears,” SAI Global said in its audit.

Last week, federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc outlined a series of new measures to protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2018, including banning snow-crab fishing in the area where right whales congregated in 2017.

DFO will also temporarily close areas where whales are spotted in 2018.

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