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Jenny McCarthy
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Monitoring fisheries and navigating complex rules all in a day's work for fishery officers

It's bright and early in the morning when Chad Howse and Jim Holwell head out on the waters of Upper Lake Melville.

One hour after sunset on Aug. 12 marked the end of the recreational food fishery and the two Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) employees were in charge of making sure the nets were all taken in.

Chad Howse, a Bay d'Espoir native, checks a net. - Photo by Jenny McCarthy/The Labradorian

Upper Lake Melville - It's bright and early in the morning when Chad Howse and Jim Holwell head out on the waters of Upper Lake Melville.

One hour after sunset on Aug. 12 marked the end of the recreational food fishery and the two Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) employees were in charge of making sure the nets were all taken in.

At 6 a.m. the next morning, the boat pulls out and the two men's day begins.

Howse has been working with DFO for a year, but he's still in training.

Holwell, on the other hand, is a veteran. He's been with the organization for 28 years. Both men know their stuff and the complicated rules that come with their job.

The first stop is past the marker that tells fishermen how far to go before they can set their nets. One fisherman is busy hauling in his net, as the previous night's weather prevented him from getting out to it.

The two officers watch as the net is pulled up, then continue on their rounds.

The offshore fishery in Upper Lake Melville is a complicated one. There are four different sets of rules for four different groups.

For example, a commercial fishery in Upper Lake Melville has only two licence holders, but they are not permitted to catch salmon. Commercial licences expired Aug. 15.

Nunatsiavut members have a communal licence for Upper Lake Melville and those licences expire Aug. 31.

The Innu Nation has a communal licence for community members and it expires Sept. 15.

These aren't the only complicated rules fishery officers have to work through. They also have to determine who owns which net.

Generally, Nunatsiavut members mark "LIA" and their licence number on the jug floating with their nets. Innu Nation does the same.

Some people write their names and licence numbers and it's up to the officers to find out to which group the net belongs.

At 7 a.m., Holwell is on the phone matching names and numbers. Each inspected net has to be carefully documented.

Even more rules come with the nets - how long they are, how deep they can go and how wide they can be.

In the name of conservation, some areas are off-limits to fishermen, and DFO officers have to make sure these areas are net-free, a process that can be difficult, depending on the weather.

On this day, high winds mean getting back to shore, so spotting nets is even more difficult. The waves make rocky shorelines dangerous, and Howse said he knows all too well how that can pan out.

He was once on a boat that hit rocks and was damaged, but they were able to make it back to land without anyone being hurt or the boat capsizing.

It's one of the dangers of the job, he said.

But despite all the complicated regulations in Upper Lake Melville, both Holwell and Howse say their work is not as hectic as it could be.

In his 28 years of service, Holwell said he's dealt with everything from foreign fishing on the Grand Banks to regulating the once quite active commercial fishery.

He said the worst situation is when people become belligerent. Holwell said he was once surrounded by nearly 50 men and women after an attempt to confiscate illegally obtained salmon. Some assault charges resulted, but Holwell said he and his co-workers still felt fortunate nothing more serious happened.

Since then the fishery officers have been given better equipment for dealing with threatening situations. They are armed in a similar way to RCMP officers - with a 9 mm pistol, a baton and a bottle of pepper spray.

Howse said he wishes there was no reason for the officers to have to carry those weapons.

A Bay d'Espoir native, he said the variety of fisheries make his work interesting. Between the lobster, crab and salmon fisheries, he's always kept busy.

In Upper Lake Melville, they have the summer fishery, the seal fishery, the inland fishery and winter ice fishing to keep an eye on.

The important thing, Howse said, is to show your presence. People need to know DFO is there enforcing the rules before the rules will be obeyed, he added.

They stop for a lunch break at Mulligan Point after five hours of work enforcing the rules on more than 50 kilometres of coastline.

It's one of the good things about working with DFO, Howse said.

"We get to be in the outdoors a lot of the time."

He said he'd wanted to be a wildlife officer and didn't know much about fishery officer work until he went to college. After earning a college diploma and a university degree, he was among the few people hired.

A hunter and fisherman himself, he couldn't be happier, he said.

"I love the outdoors, I love the field work, I love the enforcement. The job's been a dream come true, really."

Holwell likes the work, too, but after 28 years he's looking forward to retirement.

Organizations: DFO, RCMP

Geographic location: Upper Lake

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