The Beginning – “The Lobster Model”

By Barry Darby

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash.

All my life on this island of Newfoundland, the fisheries, the ocean and our particular society have been a part of my thinking, my interest, and my activities. However, it was only after my retirement that I began to commit my ideas to paper.

My first public writing was a letter to the St. John’s Telegram on March 20, 2013 where I introduced the idea of the “lobster model”.

My family was involved in lobster canning at the turn of the last century. There were no harvesting regulations, and by 1924 lobster stocks were seriously depleted. The Dominion government closed the fishery for three years, and put regulations in place for when it reopened in 1927. Those harvesting regulations have changed little since that time, and the lobster fishery has been a success every year for the past 90 years.

This successful fishery is an effort-managed system, not a quota-based one. It is based on a few core principles:

  • Control the effort, both in number of harvesters and type of gear
  • Require live release of the young
  • Protect the spawning biomass, and
  • Have no quotas!

Imagine instituting a management plan for the hopefully returning cod that could last successfully for 90 years – like the one our forefathers created for lobster.  Let’s call it “The Lobster Model.”

A follow-up letter described the “lobster model” in some detail, highlighting the principles that are fundamental to my proposal Changing Course.  In the full paper, much has been added, and new concepts introduced, including a focus on net economic return, the real meaning of the “precautionary approach”, the idea of “use rights” for all citizens. The concept of success has been expanded to embrace the sustainability of not only the fish but also of the community and the ecosystem itself.

That first 2013 letter to the Telegram went on to list many inconsistencies in our present-day practices – inconsistencies that all pointed to the need for major changes.

The recent news of fish plant closures; talk of importing foreign workers; annual halibut quotas being caught in a single day while other fishermen lose their lives fishing halibut in the dead of winter; limited cod quotas despite catch rates higher than in past years when fish were deemed to be plentiful – those headlines and others like them indicate there is a serious problem with the management of fish harvesting in this province.

As Bill Barry stated on the Broadcast last October “I don’t think I’ll see in my lifetime a change in the regulatory system that would allow us to harvest the riches of the ocean in a rational efficient manner.”

I choose to be more optimistic. The contradictions I noted in 2013 persist today, along with new ones, but we must view them as a wake-up call. As I state in Changing Course, “anomalies in a paradigm are evidence of the need for a paradigm shift”. With the example of the Lobster Model, we can make Effort-Based Management that new paradigm.

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