A deft hand on the wheel and the throttle
I think it is safe to say a large percentage of the rural population of Newfoundland and Labrador was pleasantly surprised by the Williams government’s announcement of $14 million for fisheries research.
Even those who are not involved directly in the fishery, but are far removed from the capital city, are doubtless delighted to see an announcement indicating the top floor of the Confederation Building is aware there is life out here. After a number of announcements that took away things from rural parts of the province, the change is more than welcome. Bravo to the Williams’ government. And a special bravo to the people of Flower’s Cove who set the alarm clock that woke the government from their dreams of endless barrels of oil, paving the road to prosperity for urban places. Pleasant dreams no doubt, but ones that exclude nearly half the population, those who dwell beyond the warm glow of streetlights illuminating that favoured universe within the overpass.
So, an announcement the government is funding a research crew on the fishery, skippered by George Rose, made people dozing in rockers around the bay sit up and take notice. This was something. George Rose. The man’s name is synonymous with excellence in research leading to clear and incisive recommendations for action. He understands not just what makes the fishery tick, but the crucial importance of the survival of all the species involved, rural fishers and fishery workers among them.
With George Rose at its head, the creation of a fishery’s research unit sends a signal to all who care to listen the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is aware of the pivotal role the fishery can play in guaranteeing the long term prosperity of this province.
For hundreds of years the fishery was the backbone of this place, and many believe it can be again, continuing long after the last drop of oil has been sucked from beneath the seabed. Properly managed with realistic quotas, taken by human power rather than huge machines and destructive gear, this industry has what it takes to become once again the heartbeat that can energize this place forever.
That can surely happen if the government is not only aware of the central role of the fishery, but prepared to become a hands-on participant by passing legislation that enables the fishery to prosper by becoming the source of the greatest good for the greatest number.
The solid science George Rose will bring to the table is a crucial element. A necessary first step. But without the recognition unfettered capitalism and concentration of wealth in a few hands is the wrong direction to take, the $14 million will have been money wasted.
We do not need to return to the bad old days when a handful of Water Street merchants dictated the standard of living of the majority. We don’t need that.
What we do need is more, not fewer people in more, not fewer places making a fair paycheque from catching and processing fewer not more tonnes of product, until the stocks return to healthy levels. This we can do by using more human power and fewer costly machines to create ready to eat food of the highest quality in quantities that are sustainable, and by marketing them to consumers who recognize the value of what we harvest from the deep cold, clean waters alongside our shores.
If this is the goal of a policy whose first step was the establishment of the George Rose scientific crew, then the government of the province is charting the correct course.
But even on the correct course, hazards are inevitable.
We must be prepared for a reaction from the federal government that fisheries policy is the constitutional territory of Ottawa, not the provinces.
This is not a hidden hazard, it is printed plainly on the chart. It is a legal shoal that must be prudently navigated.
The navigator standing on the bridge atop the good ship ‘Confederation Building’ has a habit of motoring at full speed. He has a habit of picking fights and calling those who don’t share his views unmentionable names. This is neither the time nor place for that. Everyone in this province can tell stories about some of the ill-conceived and foolish things done by DFO. They are as obvious as saying winter is colder than summer.
But when we are inevitably challenged by Ottawa, it will do no good to sing out in chorus: ‘Come near at your peril DFO wolf ’. We have.
It will be time for a deft hand on the wheel and the throttle, varying full speed and dead slow, neutral and yes, sometimes even going astern. We have made a good start and the destination is a rewarding one.
Good luck to us all.