By Greg Bennett
The Coast Guard
The message coming from the federal fisheries minister is a clear one …owner-operator policies meant to protect self-employed independent fishermen will not be changed.
In a statement released on Friday, Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, said he was not happy with inaccurate suggestions that the government would eliminate the fleet separation and owner-operator policies.
"Let me be absolutely clear: the fleet separation and owner operator policies in Atlantic Canada will remain intact,” he wrote in Friday’s statement. "I believe there are ways to make the fishery function better while preserving the fleet separation and owner-operator policies so that the traditional fishery remains and is improved for future generations.”
The statement comes two months after local Tory insiders revealed the government’s intention was to leave owner-operator policies alone despite other sweeping changes to fisheries management being considered.
Long serving Conservative backbencher and South Shore-St. Margaret’s MP Gerald Keddy was trying to calm fears over the summer after he “talked at length” with Ashfield over the issue.
Fisheries groups across Atlantic Canada and beyond began raising the alarm in March after a discussion paper on the future management of the industry was published earlier this year.
That discussion paper left many to speculate that the department was reconsidering its fleet separation policies and coalitions of groups claiming to represent thousands of independent fishermen voiced strong objections.
Under government policies in place since the early 1980s, licences to many inshore fisheries, including the lucrative lobster fishery, were restricted to individual fishermen who own and operate their own vessels.
Many fear that without separation policies that licenses would be bought out by large corporations with little regard to the effect that could have on individual communities.