The Canadian Exchange: Scientist Goes Lobster Fishing

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In May, 2013. GAP2 researchers and stakeholders travelled to St. Andrews to attend the Canadian Fisheries Research Network (CFRN) annual meeting. GAP2 researcher Pablo Pita Orduna spent a day working with local lobster fishers and recounts his experiences below. Read posts from other scientists and fishermen on this exchange here.

Reflections

I lean over the bulwark with the gaff and try to hook the buoy that we’re quickly approaching. It comes too close to the hull’s boat and I lose it. Frustrated, I run by the bulwark towards the stern and I bend down dangerously, almost falling. I caught it! I drag the rope back to the puller and I stop to catch my breath. I’ve been six hours lifting traps and I’m starting to be very tired.

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I have stiff arms and I really have to look at my legs to make sure they are still down there. And we have yet another six hours of fishing to go! I glance at Heidi, the sailor who works this hard every day aboard the lobster boat skippered by Jimmy, her husband. How does she manage? She barely weighs 60 kg!

Heidi is placing gums around the lobster’s claws to prevent them from hurting each other. It is clear that the hours I spend behind the computer come at a cost. “Hey boss, the buoy was too close! You better don’t do it again!” I shout to Jimmy over the engine noise. We laugh. Then I sigh and raise the trap.

Furious at our audacity, five beautiful lobsters are squirming inside. We take them out carefully so as not to lose our fingers in their claws, and we measure them. Two of them are undersize and are immediately returned to the sea. We bait the trap once more, and on the Jimmy’s order, it is pushed overboard.

Yesterday we arrived to Deer Island, in the middle of the famous Bay of Fundy in Canada, where we were warmly welcomed by local fishermen and their families. We met at the local school where we animatedly exchanged fishing experiences of both sides of the Atlantic. Then each of us had to deal with a huge lobster  – which entertained us for quite of a while.

The fishermen gave tips on the best techniques to reach the exquisite meat inside, while Maria Rechia, executive director of the Fundy North Fishermen Association, told us that since the cod and herring collapsed, these crustaceans are the basis of the fishing economy of a large and beautiful region including the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of Maine, in the USA.

A progressive decline in prices has forced to a catches increase, but this fishery remains sustainable. On the other hand, Maria recognizes that currently the local economy is overly dependent on a single resource, and this could pose a problem in the future.

But today the sea and our bellies are filled with lobsters and we feel very satisfied. After-dinner, we retired to bed. Xoan López, Secretary of the Galician Federation of Fishermen Associations, Marloes Kraan, from the Dutch IMARES and me are sleeping in a charming log house owned by Heidi and Jimmy. The rest of the European delegation of GAP2 project, the other two Dutch and two Italians, are spending the night in the homes of other fishermen.

Some fishermen and researchers of the GAP2 project have been invited by the Canadian Fisheries Research Network (CFRN) to deepen in the understanding of our respective experiences of cooperative work between fishermen and scientists. The exchange was excellently organized by Robert Stephenson and Stacey Paul, lead researcher and biologist of CFRN, respectively. Appropriately, our visit coincided with the Paddle Festival of St. Andrews, the opening of the tourist season of this beautiful town, a half hour walk from our accommodation at Anderson House.

So on Friday, after a week of work, fishermen and scientists from both sides of the Atlantic enjoyed beer and local music at Red Herring. The come back home was not so good. Saša Raicevich, lead researcher of the Italian case study and me, got lost in the darkness of the Canadian forests. I had the opportunity to ask about the right way to a porcupine that suddenly appeared by the wayside, but unfortunately had an accent so strong I could not understand anything. Finally, after more than two hours walking, our battered bones arrived at Anderson House.

The CFRN has developed an impressive stable structure here, of great interest for us. Throughout this intense week we performed presentations, discussed about the successes and failures of the current fisheries policies and about the future challenges that lie ahead of the ones who love and work at sea. Very soon we will have the final conclusions of this exchange experience.


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