Fishing @ PEI

In the summer of 2010, we decided to travel to the Eastern most province of Canada, the Prince Edward Islands (PEI).

Savanna Style Location Map of Prince Edward Island
PEI is located close to the Eastern Canadian coast in the Atlantic Ocean. The Confederation Bridge links Prince Edward Island with mainland Canada. The 12.9-kilometre bridge opened on 31 May 1997. One can also reach the island on a ferry. There is no toll on the bridge or charges on the ferry while entering PEI, but on leaving one got to pay.

The island is named after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, the fourth son of King George III and the father of Queen Victoria. The Island is 224 km long and from 6 to 64 km wide with a total area of 5,660 square km. No place in the province is more than 16 km from the sea and the highest point is 152 metres or 466 feet above sea level.

Classic Style Map of Prince Edward Island
The island has three counties: Prince, Queens and Kings. The Island is formed from sedimentary bed rock of soft, red sandstone which produces the rich, red soil. The redness of the soil is due to the high iron-oxide (rust) content.

Agriculture remains the dominant industry, especially potato farming in the red soil. The province currently accounts for a quarter of Canada’s total potato production. In the PEI, fishing, particularly lobster fishing as well as oyster fishing and mussel farming, is second to farming as an occupation and is a highly regulated industry.

The lobsters are fished using a lobster trap. Lobster traps are constructed of wire and wood and an opening permits the lobster to enter a tunnel of netting. The size of the opening depends upon the size of the lobster to be caught. The majority of the newer traps consist of a plastic-coated metal frame.  Traps are usually constructed in two parts, called the ‘kitchen’, where there is bait, and exits into the ‘parlour’, where the lobster is trapped from escape.

During fishing season, bait fish is placed inside the trap, and the traps are dropped onto the sea floor. A long rope is attached to each trap, at the end of which is a plastic or Styrofoam buoy that bears the owner’s license number and is identified by their colour coding. The traps are checked every day by the fisherman and re-baited if necessary.

The activity that really enthused us was the lobster and crab fishing tour, operated by Captain Mark Jerkins and assisted by his younger brother Codi. Captain Mark runs this tour in July and August at the end of the fishing season. During the tour we experienced what the lobster fisher folk undergo. It involved locating a buoy, hauling a trap and banding a claw of the lobsters. The claws are banded to ensure that the lobsters do not fight with each other and lose their claws. Watch how Cody holds the lobster’s claws in the image. Outside water, if not handled properly, these claws will fall-off as they are really heavy.

As per Mark, this Lobster is about 40 yrs old.

Everyone took a turn at the boat’s wheel and learned how to use modern technologies to fish for lobster. Captain Mark also shared his personal experiences while fishing for lobster and also how this fourth generation lobster fishing family makes their living on the water. At the end of the tour we were treated to a sumptuous dinner of lobsters and crabs.

More than 1,200 lobster fishers set out for these waters to haul in lobsters during the first fishing season in PEI that runs from April 30 to June 30 each year. Setting Day marks the start of the eight-week lobster fishing season. The annual event starts at 4:45 am when the fishing communities across the island come out to cheer on their local fishing fleets as they head out to the sea. The first lobster boat that leaves the wharf is that of the most veteran fisher and his crew and other boats follow and the wharf roars with the sounds of engines, cheers and silent prayers. Some harbours invite local clergy to bless the boats and crews during this annual spring rite.

PEI’s lobster industry strongly believes in sustainability and would never jeopardize their rich resources for short term gains. Its fishery is strong because of the aggressive and sustainable management strategies implemented throughout its history. The Canada government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) sets minimum legal sizes to sustain the lobster fishery and fines fishermen caught with smaller lobsters on their boats.

The smaller lobsters called the ‘Canners’ are unique to the PEI, where the warmer temperatures cause the lobsters to mature quickly. These small lobsters were canned in the earlier days and so they got their name. Minimum size of ‘Canners’ is now set to 72 mm and they weigh between 250 and 375 grams. This is where the marine-scientific community believes the population is sustainable, as 50% of female lobsters in PEI’s waters would have reproduced at least once by the time they reach this size. In other regions, the minimum legal size is 81 mm. The waters are colder there and it takes longer for the lobsters to mature – when they do, they are much bigger. The ‘Market’ lobsters are about 81 mm and weigh more than a pound. They are used in the restaurants and are exported live to the United States.

The Island’s 27 crab fishermen are engaged in the trade.  Their allotted annual quota for PEI fishermen is about 600 tons which include snow crab, rock crab and spider crab.

In PEI, during a  tuna fishing season (mid July to mid October), each licence is allotted  one tuna and the captain owns that fish, to conserve Bluefin tuna population. According to Captain Mark, he stays in the high-seas until a Bluefin Tuna  weighing about 400 kg is caught.  Tunas are fished using ‘tended line’ method where a baited hook is attached on a line, connected to a powerful motor on the boat to reel in the catch.  At the hook end Captain Mark ties a kite which flutters in the air and goes down once the fish bites the bait.  The line is now pulled in and if the tuna is not large enough, is released and the operation is repeated.

95 %of the Bluefin Tuna is exported to Japan. A fish can be caught on a Monday, trucked to Halifax on Tuesday and arrive by plane in Tokyo on Thursday.  A fish that fetches about $25,000 at the PEI Wharf may fetch half a million dollars in the Tokyo’s fish market auction.

The fishing industry being regulated stipulates that there is a need for a licence to fish lobsters. The licenses are passed on from generation to generation and it is not that easy to get a new license as the DFO has put a cap on it. With each licence comes stipulations regarding the harvesting season dates, area they can set their traps, the number of traps permitted, the minimum and the maximum size of the lobsters that can be caught. Any violation of the stipulations will lead to hefty fines and also suspension of the license for three days. There have been hardly any violations reported as a three day suspension during a sixty day harvesting season will prove to be big loss.

The fishing community along with the DFO officials and the environmentalist have succeeded in maintaining the equilibrium of the fragile eco-system and also ensure optimum market value for their catches.


Whale Watching @ Bay of Fundi

After spending three days on the Prince Edward Island (PEI), the Eastern most province of Canada, we decided to travel to the Bay of Fundy for Whale watching.

The Bay of Fundy is a bay on the Atlantic coast between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Some sources believe the name ‘Fundy’ is a corruption of the French word ‘Fendu’, meaning ‘split’, while others believe it comes from the Portuguese ‘funda’, meaning ‘deep’. The Bay of Fundy is known for having the highest tidal range in the world and is said to be best place to watch the whales in the summer.

We had entered PEI through the Confederation Bridge and decided to take ferry for exiting the island. It could have been the resultant of my military mind which prompted the decision for a different exit route and also the eagerness for the experience of traveling by the ferry.

The ferry commences its voyage from Wood Islands, PEI and takes 75 minutes crossing the Northumberland Strait to Caribou, Nova Scotia. The bottom two decks of the ferry holds about 150 vehicles, which include 60 feet trucks, cars and motor cycles. The upper two decks are for passengers and there is Wi-Fi, movies, restaurants, lounges, children play area, etc on board.   We loaded our car into the ferry at about 2 PM and moved into the upper deck to enjoy the sea breeze. We reached Caribou by around 3:30 PM and drove off to Middleton.

We spent the night in a motel at Middleton and the next morning drove to Freeport in Nova Scotia and reached an yellow building – the Lavena’s Catch Cafe which also houses the booking office for the Whale Watching Tour operated by Captain Tim. He also doubles up as a lobster fisherman, when he is not operating the Whale Watching Tour. On reaching the cafe, Nidhi our daughter was quick to come up with the fact that this place had featured in the Food Network’s series Pitchin’ In, hosted by chef Lynn Crawford.

Lavena’s Catch Cafe established in 2000 is owned and operated by Tim Crockers’ sister Lavena and her husband Stanton. It is purely a family business and has been listed in Where To Eat In Canada since 2002. All dishes are prepared daily.  The menu boasts of delicious seafood entree’s and fabulous homemade desserts. The menu is somewhat dictated by what comes off the boat that day and the seafood is as fresh as you can get. We had breakfast and placed our order for lunch, mainly scallop chowder, baked haddock and salads.

At 10 AM we embarked on Captain Tim’s boat for the Whale Watching Tour. After the mandatory safety briefing, the boat steamed off into the Bay of Fundy – a 90 minute cruise. Captain Tim kept briefing us about the seas, the whales and all his previous experiences of encounters with the whales. He claimed that he had never missed sighting the whales in any of his tours and promised us that we will all meet the biggest mammals. Suddenly the boat broke into high speed and Captain Tim called everyone to look in the front and there they were – about eight Humpback whales swimming majestically. Captain Tim positioned the boat about 30 meters from the swimming whales and moved parallel to them so that we could see the whales. These “showmen” put on some spectacular shows, literally throwing their bodies out of the water (breaching). They come into the Fundy Bay to feed on the enormous amount of capelin (small smelt fish) that come in from the sea. The humpbacks are about 12-16 metres long with black dorsal colouring and large white pectoral fins. Their top looks like a hump and hence their names and another distinctive feature of the Humpback are their fluked tail. Flukes are the two lobes of the whale tail.

Whale watching tours follow the Marine Tour Operators Code of Ethics which include no chasing, harassing or herding the whales. This is to ensure that the whales are not disturbed from their natural routine or injured.

On returning to the Lavena’s Catch Cafe by mid-day, hot chowders were waiting for us. We enjoyed the fabulous seafood lunch and set out to the Digby Port to catch the ferry to St Johns in New Brunswick. We loaded the car into the ferry and set sail at 4 PM for a three hour journey across the Bay of Fundy.

The facilities in the ferry were similar to the earlier ferry and the duration being three hours, we decided to settle down in the lounge for a game of cards. After about two hours, the Captain announced that there were some killer whales sighted on the port side. We looked out and was about four killer whales emerging out of water, doing flips, turns and somersaults before landing back on the water. These killer whales are called Orcas and is a toothed whale, the largest of the Dolphin family. They are easily distinguished by their fin and their prominent black and white markings which can be seen from far. They are natural predators but as well, they are natural showmen.

We disembarked at the St John’s port at about 7 PM and drove off to the hotel and spent the night there. Early morning we drove to Quebec City and the next day to our home in Mississauga.