By Greg Bennett
Fisheries groups across Atlantic Canada and beyond are raising the alarm over a Fisheries and Oceans discussion paper on the future management of the industry.
A coalition of groups claiming to represent 30,000 fishermen has submitted a strongly worded response largely aimed at keeping the separation between independent and corporate-controlled fisheries.
Lobster Fisheries Advisory Board 34 Chair Ashton Spinney says communities that depend on independent fisheries like the inshore lobster fishery have reason to be concerned about the possibility of losing owner-operator policies.
“There would no longer be an inshore fishery as we know it,” said Spinney. “It would be all bought up by companies.”
In a joint statement, the coalition of fisheries groups described the Fisheries and Oceans initiative as “A barely veiled attack on the policies that protect self-employed, independent fishermen.”
The statement notes that the inshore and mid-shore owner-operator fleets in Atlantic Canada land more than 75% of the value of Atlantic fisheries through their control of lobster and crab fishing and their majority share of the shrimp fishery. Under government policies in place since the early 1980s licences to these fisheries are restricted to individual fishermen who must own and operate their own vessels. The statement further notes that fish companies have been trying to gain access to these licences for years.
“It affects not only us …but future generations,” said Spinney. “We want this protected.”
Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield issued a statement last week about the need for change in fisheries management.
“Canada has the longest coastline and arguably the best seafood products in the world, but we are time and again being out-performed by smaller countries with shorter coastlines and less access to the resource. During this time of economic uncertainty, we cannot afford to waste this precious resource,” wrote the minister.
The minister noted that in meetings with hundreds of Canadians and groups across the country, he hears one consistent message: “change is needed.”
The DFO announced in January it was embarking on a discussion of changes to the Atlantic fishery and gave groups in the industry six weeks to respond. The initial Feb. 29 deadline has been extended to March 14.
As a part of its response to the discussion paper, the coalition is asking Fisheries and Ocean to entrench owner-operator and fleet separations rules into law.
“We believe that regulatory and legislative entrenchment of the Fleet Separation and Owner-Operator policies is the key public policy decision to be made regarding the Atlantic fishery; a policy decision that speaks directly to access and allocation, economic viability and conservation concerns,” reads the response.
While not defending the status-quo, the coalition’s response says the discussion paper reveals a very different understanding of what needs to be changed.
“Changing the rules and policies that govern our fisheries management to make life easier for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, especially those who are far removed from the reality of the fishery, is not what we have in mind when we say “fisheries management needs to change.”