Hunting and fishing associations and environmental groups join forces

Hunting and fishing associations and environmental groups join forces to call for a solution to the various issues affecting Île Brion

Magdalen Islands, July 6, 2017 – Hunting and fishing associations and environmental groups are joining forces in an unusual partnership to send a clear message to various levels of government. All agree that rapid, coordinated action is required to resolve the many issues affecting Île Brion.  They call on officials in Quebec and Ottawa to commit the time and resources necessary to develop concrete solutions in partnership with the Islands community, taking citizens’ wishes into account.

Working toward sustainable management of hunting and fishing
The grey seal colony on Île Brion seems to have exploded in recent years, and is deemed detrimental to fishing activities in the area. "Conflicts between fishermen and seals are increasing at an alarming rate. The seals destroy our fishing gear and tangle our buoys and lines. There are already eating huge quantity of fish just by their numbers, including cod, that it’s a double disaster for us. We need concrete measures to help us manage this situation. Are our governments going to help us? We can’t wait any longer," insists David Burke, president of the Association of Inshore Fishermen of the Magdalen Islands.

The same message is stressed by Charles Poirier, president of the largest fishermen’s association in the Islands, the Rassemblement des pêcheurs et pêcheuses des côtes des Îles: "Even scientists agree: some commercial fish species won’t return to the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence if the grey seal populations aren’t managed properly."

The Intra-Quebec Sealers Association (ACPIQ) submitted a proposal to the Quebec government, seeking to conduct a supervised scientific research project that would have included sampling a limited portion of the ecological reserve. Although the project was supported by both the scientific and Islands communities, it was turn down by the government. Furthermore, several individuals were prosecuted for hunting illegally in an ecological reserve, according to the government’s case.

"Our association simply wants to collaborate to allow supervised hunting on a limited portion of Île Brion’s beaches, in a way that respects this fragile environment as well as human activities, and that would aim to compile the additional scientific knowledge that would be essential for better management of this resource," explains Gil Thériault, the ACPIQ’s director.

Access to, study and promotion of Île Brion and the ecological reserve
Despite repeated community demands for investments to make Île Brion accessible and promote it, the ecological reserve has essentially been abandoned by the government of Quebec. The signs that had been posted are no longer visible, since no inspections were conducted in recent years; no infrastructure remains that would allow safe access. Several historical buildings and structures that would be indispensable for emergency shelter in the off-reserve section were not maintained and cannot be restored, and trails are difficult or impossible to access. A project submitted to the Quebec government in 2016 proposed the renovation of infrastructure in the context of an updated educational programme, but was unfortunately refused. That educational programme was developed by a leading scientist specializing in Magdalen Islands ecology, biologist Lucie d’Amours, and aimed to make certain portions of the ecological reserve accessible, while ensuring both the safety of visitors and ecological integrity of the environment. In view of the Quebec government’s late and inadequate response, which was considered too limited in scope and funding to ensure visitor safety, the project had to be abandoned.

Lucie d’Amours also mentioned that "ecological reserves are recognized as exceptional sites for conducting research and educational activities on the environment. The creation of this ecological reserve on Île Brion was accepted locally with this in mind, and it was the original intention from the beginning, in 1988. This reserve and its surroundings are currently experiencing important modifications, due to climate change and the major erosion that can be observed, as well as the large colony of grey seals that has recently settled there. Wouldn’t it be imperative for government authorities to seek involvement by scientific researchers, so that they could document these phenomena properly? This would make it possible to identify current issues more precisely, as well as to develop strategies to preserve the biodiversity of this environment, in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, whose sustainable resources are at the basis of the well-being of our community."

"Reconciling human, research and educational activities fits in well with conservation of a natural site. It is fundamentally important to define the way in which it will be used, in order to ensure balance within the ecosystem," adds Véronique Déraspe, director of an environmental group dedicated to Islands conservation, the Société de conservation des Îles-de-la-Madeleine

"It is our hope that Quebec will now demonstrate its ability to manage the Île Brion ecological reserve properly, in close collaboration and with respect for the Islands community, which has contributed to the development of this project. For Magdalen Island residents, designating a protected area on their territory was a promising project for the environment and for the community. The community is very disappointed in the disengagement on the part of the government, which is how it is perceived today. There is only one option: find a solution immediately," comments Danielle Giroux, Project Manager for conservation and marine environmental issues for CPAWS Québec, and president of the environmental group, Attention FragÎles.

Reconciling human activities and conservation
For the Magdalen Islands ZIP Committee, "all projects of this type must absolutely be developed with the local community, in a way that is innovative, integrating, objective, transparent and, especially, participatory. The Gulf and its resources are intimately linked to the way of life of the Magdalen Island community, and constitute a vast and complex ecosystem that supports our economy, helps to feed us, and fosters a strong sense of belonging in the residents of this territory. At this stage, citizens’ concerns are legitimate; they are worried about an administrative process about which they know little," concludes committee president Louis Fournier.
CPAWS Québec has offered its support to the Magdalen Islands community in the search for solutions to this complex issue, where human activities and conservation must be reconciled. "Île Brion is an exceptional heritage for Magdalen Islands and the entire province of Québec. A real solution is still possible, but all sides need to show openness and flexibility in order to reach it. Through a collaborative approach, we can find a way to manage this protected area that will improve both its conservation and the economic benefits for the community," explains Alain Branchaud, Executive Director of CPAWS Québec.

In a context where government representatives will come to the Islands in July to meet actors involved in this sensitive issue, it is our hope that the government of Québec will make a commitment to collaborate as explained above, and work closely will the government of Canada to develop solutions that will benefit the Islands community.

Signed by:
Intra-Quebec Sealers Association, Association des pêcheurs propriétaires des Îles-de-la-Madeleine (APPÎM), Attention FragÎles, Cape Dauphin Fisherman coop, Inshore Fishermen Association of the Magdalen Islands, Magdalen Islands ZIP Committee, Lucie d’Amours, Regroupement des pêcheurs professionnels des Îles (RPPIM), Regroupement des pétoncliers et palangriers des Îles-de-la-Madeleine (RPPUM), Rassemblement des pêcheurs et pêcheuses des côtes des Îles,  CPAWS Québec, Société de conservation des Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

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Contacts :

Danielle Giroux, Conservation Projects Manager
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS Québec) and
President, Attention FragÎles
514.278.7627, ext 227

Louis Fournier, President
Yves Martinet, Director
Magdalen Islands ZIP Committee
418.986.6633, ext 1

Lucie d’Amours, Biologist

Véronique Déraspe, Director
Société de conservation des Îles-de-la-Madeleine (SCÎM)

Alain Branchaud, Executive Director
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS Québec)

Gil Thériault, Director
Intra-Quebec Sealers Association (ACPIQ)

David Burke, President
Inshore Fishermen Association of the Magdalen Islands

Mario Déraspe, President,
Association des pêcheurs propriétaires des Îles-de-la-Madeleine (APPÎM)

Jocelyn Thériault, President
Regroupement des pêcheurs professionnels des Îles (RPPIM)

Pierre Chevrier, President
Regroupement des pétoncliers et palangriers des Îles-de-la-Madeleine (RPPUM)

Ruth Taker-Thibodeau, Director
Cape Dauphin Fisherman coop

Charles Poirier, Président
Rassemblement des pêcheurs et pêcheuses des côtes des Îles