Keith and Rod Pierce of Harbour Breton unloading a lobster catch in Harbour Breton during the 2011 lobster season. — Coaster file photo
Lobster harvesters from Point Crewe in Fortune Bay to Big Brook on the Northern Peninsula (Areas 11 to 14B) are participating in the first round of bidding under the lobster enterprise retirement program (LERP) in an opportunity to possibly leave the industry.
The LERP represents a major element of the Conservation and Sustainability Plan for the Newfoundland Lobster Fishery.
The plan was developed by the Fish Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) and was approved by the federal and provincial governments.
Bill Broderick is the program co-ordinator of the Lobster Enterprise Retirement Program.
Broderick said although there was a high level of interest expressed by harvesters in more than 100 meetings held about the program, there is no way to anticipate how many harvesters will actually participate in the first round of bidding.
He said, "At every meeting held about this program, there was interest expressed in this program. Of course, it remains to be seen how this high level of interest will actually translate into bids."
He said that harvesters need to keep in mind when submitting bids that the system will work on a reverse auction basis - that is the lowest bids will be accepted first.
"The sky is not the limit in this bidding system," Broderick said. "Harvesters will have to be realistic and ask themselves what they could actually get for their licence on the open market."
Offer to sell applications within a particular lobster fishing area (LFA) will be ranked from lowest to highest in terms of price.
The LERP program is slated to run until March 2014 unless all of the $17.1 million in program funding has been spent prior to this date.
Broderick said the second round of bidding should be completed before the 2012 lobster season opens in April.
The LERP is intended to improve the income levels of fish harvesters and the economic viability of lobster dependent fishing enterprises in the province.
Broderick said, "The whole object of this program is to make it better for people staying in the industry after this money has been exhausted. The resource out there come 2014 will be shared around with less harvesters and that should bode well for the people left in the industry."
Lobster harvesters who are successful in the bidding process will also give up their groundfish and crab licences. However, they will have 24 months to sell any other licences such as a caplin, herring or scallop licences to an interested party.
Harvesters who are successful can keep their personal fishing licences and work as a crewmember in another fishing enterprise.