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Changes to act mean more fishing wealth headed back to Pictou County

A local fisherman is cheering proposed reforms to the federal Fisheries Act that he says will bring more industry profits back into Pictou County.

The changes mean that fishermen may only hold one licence for each species and must make their own catches, taking wealth away from big fishing corporations in favour of local independent owner-operators.

That’s according to Ronnie Heighton, a River John fisherman and president of the Northumberland Fishermen’s Association.

“You can only have one lobster licence and one herring and one mackerel and so on,” he said.

He added that more money in fishermen’s pockets means a cash injection for Pictou County as they spend more at local businesses, buying everything from meals to trucks.

First announced on Feb. 6 by Minister of Fisheries Dominic LeBlanc, the proposed Fisheries Act changes lets Ottawa make licensing decisions to protect independent owner operators. Licensing can also depend on socio-economic conditions.

In a release Wednesday, Maritime Fishermen’s Union president Carl Allen hailed the proposals as a “victory for independent fish harvesters across Canada.”

The revised act will also restore and modernize marine habitat conservation and protection safeguards that were removed by the former Conservative government in 2012.

The revised act aims to protect fisheries and fish habitat as well as combat pollution. It includes protections for all fish and not just those deemed important for human consumption.

The proposed reforms include: placing restrictions on fishing activities in certain areas to preserve marine habitat, banning the taking of whales into captivity and a requirement to consider if stock-rebuilding measures are in place when making decisions on depleted fish stocks.

As such, precautionary decision-making, an ecosystem-based approach, the due consideration of science-based advice and local knowledge must be used to guide decision-making.

The proposed reforms also explicitly enshrine First Nations rights and say their traditional knowledge must inform decisions regarding marine habitats.

Ottawa’s promise of stronger safeguards was welcomed by Heighton, who was worried about the effects of Northern Pulp’s proposed treated waste pipeline into the Northumberland Strait near Pictou.

“They should listen to the fishermen who know more about the water than anyone else and back us up – no pipe in the strait. As simple as that,” said Heighton.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada says that 17 marine species in Atlantic Canada alone are either threatened or endangered.

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