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Enjoying a very diverse fishery, Prince Edward Island markets its fish harvest to countries around the world. This fishery is divided into two sets of categories, the first set distinguishes between the inshore and offshore fisheries while the second set differentiates between pelagic/estuarial fish and groundfish. The inshore fishery takes place around the Island’s perimeter. Fishers take daily trips in vessels under 50 feet in length, weighing less than ten tonnes. The offshore fishery involves overnight trips. Vessels are larger: over fifty feet in length and weighing more than ten imperial tons. Prince Edward Island’s fishery is mainly inshore, with individual fishermen owning their own boats. The offshore fishery employs fewer people in the province. It involves larger operations owned by companies that are more capital-than labour-intensive. These vessels, however, harvest large volumes of fish. The relatively small number of offshore fleets is more than offset by the volume of their catch.
Groundfish and Pelagic Fish differ according to type of habitat. Groundfish live close to the land and on banks further from the land. The most commercially viable fishery in groundfish has historically included cod, dogfish, flounder, hake, and redfish. These are fished using Danish seines, handlines, jiggers, longlines, and gill nets and tangle nets respectively. Pelagic and estuarial fish live in the open sea or in tidal rivers. They include eels, gaspereau, herring, mackerel, silversides, smelts, and bluefin tuna.

The past few years have been marked by increased awareness and concern over groundfish stocks in Atlantic Canada. In mid–1993, the groundfishery was closed and it was decided that the industry would not re-open until stocks were replenished and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans was confident that harvest levels would be sustainable. The purpose of the moratorium and accompanying licence buy-outs and the famous Atlantic Groundfish Strategy (TAGS) has been to reduce dependence on the fishery so that pressures on fish stocks would be reduced. Thankfully, many Islanders engaged in the groundfishery also participate in other fisheries (such as lobster, shellfish or herring) and are not being negatively affected on as wide a scale as some of our Atlantic Canadian neighbours.

Atlantic cod is the region’s most famous groundfish. Most of the commercial-sized cod found in the southwestern Gulf of St. Lawrence during the summer months migrate into deeper water southeastward out of the Gulf in late fall. Cod is caught by otter trawls, line trawls, jiggers, gill nets, and other methods. The fish is sold fresh, frozen, smoked, salted or canned and by-products are used in commodities such as fish meal and cod liver oil.

During the winter’s coldest months, many frozen bays and estuaries across the Island are dotted with a smattering of small huts made of plywood, or tarpaulin wrapped around a frame or even fibreglass and vinyl. These “smelt shacks” are erected over small holes drilled into the ice to fish smelts, which are caught using gill nets or box nets between early October and February 28.

Eels are abundant in Island waterways and can be fished virtually any time of year. The commercial fishery for eels takes place from April 1 until June 30 and from August 16 until October 31. The recreational fishery for eels is in effect from December 1 until March 31. Island silversides fishers market their harvest to markets in the United States where the fish is sold as bait. Marine parks use silversides as food for dolphins.

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