Feds have writ­ten off our fish­ing in­dus­try

Noth­ing short of ju­di­cial in­quiry needed to straighten out the mess


Dear edi­tor,

Those who have been in­volved in the New­found­land and Labrador fish­eries, es­pe­cially since the mora­to­rium of the early 1990s will be painfully aware of the fed­eral Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans al­most to­tal aban­don­ment of its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties re­gard­ing man­age­ment of our vi­tal ground­fish fish­eries.

Doc­u­mented ev­i­dence shows ground­fish stocks in Nor­way, Ice­land, Alaska and other fish­ing na­tions have been man­aged and con­served to a very healthy state, pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ment and good in­comes to har­vesters and pro­cess­ing per­son­nel and con­tribut­ing to their na­tional economies.

A good ex­am­ple is the healthy state of cod, had­dock and capelin fish­eries in the Bar­ents Sea north of Rus­sia, pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ment for thou­sands of par­tic­i­pants in Nor­way and Rus­sia.

The 2010 cod quota alone was set at more than 600,000 tonnes.

Yet, af­ter 18 years of a mora­to­rium that stopped New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans from fish­ing but per­mit­ted mem­ber coun­tries of the North­west At­lantic Fish­eries Or­ga­ni­za­tion (NAFO) to con­tinue, there is vir­tu­ally no sign of re­cov­ery of mi­grat­ing fish stocks on the Grand Banks.

Worse, there is no DFO re­build­ing plan. Fed­eral politi­cians and fish­ery bu­reau­crats have vir­tu­ally wiped our fish­ery off the slate. Not only has

Ot­tawa aban­doned its re­spon­si­bil­ity; it has al­lowed fed­eral sci­ence ca­pa­bil­ity in this prov­ince to de­te­ri­o­rate to the point where it’s im­pos­si­ble for the skele­ton staff to carry out stock as­sess­ments.

As a re­sult, we know prac­ti­cally noth­ing about the cur­rent state of our fish­eries.

The three re­search ves­sels we once had are ei­ther per­ma­nently tied up or are main­tained so poorly they are un­re­li­able for re­search sur­vey ac­tiv­ity.

Fully qual­i­fied fish­ery sci­en­tists re­tir­ing in re­cent years have not been re­placed. DFOs sci­ence bud­get has been gut­ted year af­ter year since 1995, and we now have far too many un­qual­i­fied fish­ery sci­ence per­son­nel as­sum­ing im­por­tant po­si­tions within the fed­eral depart­ment.

Mean­time, politi­cians, bu­reau­crats and po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees who have taken on de­mand­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in Ot­tawa and St. John’s con­tinue to make mis­lead­ing state­ments, sup­port­ing DFOs aban­don­ment of the New­found­land and Labrador ground­fish fish­eries, and mak­ing ev­ery pos­si­ble lame ex­cuse for the in­com­pe­tent bu­reau­cracy and its po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship.

A clas­sic ex­am­ple of the con­tin­u­ing bar­rage of mis­lead­ing state­ments came in re­cent days from fed­eral Fish­eries Min­is­ter Gail Shea.

Ques­tioned why in­for­ma­tion on fish­ing ac­tiv­i­ties out­side Canada’s 200-mile limit isn’t re­leased to the pub­lic, Shea re­sponded: Sorry, Canada can­not re­lease this in­for­ma­tion be­cause of con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments and the com­mer­cially sen­si­tive na­ture of the in­for­ma­tion.

Re­mem­ber that the min­is­ter is re­fer­ring to a com­mon prop­erty re­source owned by the peo­ple of Canada not the min­is­ter or the Cana­dian govern­ment.

And we are not en­ti­tled to know what’s hap­pen­ing to our bread-and-but­ter in­dus­try?

Ap­par­ently not, a state of af­fairs that is ridicu­lous and in­sult­ing to New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans.

Such re­sponses and other mis­lead­ing state­ments re­gard­ing NAFO, a can­cer­ous in­ter­na­tional en­tity are of­ten sup­ported by po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees, who also ad­here to an anti-re­build­ing the­ol­ogy con­cern­ing our ground­fish fish­eries.

This past week we lis­tened to Ger­ard Chidley, newly ap­pointed chair of the Fish­eries Re­source Con­ser­va­tion Coun­cil (FRCC), a fed­eral ad­vi­sory board, make mis­lead­ing state­ments con­cern­ing re­build­ing of ground­fish stocks not just cod, but all ground­fish. It would be very use­ful if the chair­man re­al­ized that floun­der ( Amer­i­can plaice, yel­low­tail, and greysole), as well as other species such as red­fish and tur­bot, rep­re­sented 80 per cent of the pro­duc­tion through south­coast plants from Trepassey to Isle Aux Morts for 25 years be­fore the mora­to­rium was de­clared.

Chidley made other state­ments on the Fish­eries Broad­cast that must be chal­lenged.

First, he stated that whit­ing and pol­lock had re­placed cod in the mar­ket, in­sin­u­at­ing that cod is no longer in de­mand around the world. He is dead wrong, and I

sug­gest he in­ves­ti­gate how well coun­tries such as Nor­way, Ice­land and oth­ers are ac­tu­ally do­ing in the mar­ket.

For ex­am­ple, Nor­way ex­ported $460 mil­lion (Cana­dian) worth of cod prod­ucts dur­ing the first quar­ter of 2010. I have vis­ited those mar­kets in Europe and South Amer­ica and can pro­vide the prices they are re­ceiv­ing.

Fur­ther­more, the FRCC chair makes the er­ro­neous state­ment that be­fore the mora­to­rium the only cod sold was in the form of frozen block. That may have been the case on the South­ern Shore, but I can as­sure you it wasn’t the case in many other plants in the prov­ince.

Chidley made an­other state­ment that is baf­fling, to say the least.

Ev­ery­body knows or should know we have a five to six-week crab fish­ery at best, with thou­sands of plant work­ers and fish­er­men find­ing them­selves short of EI el­i­gi­bil­ity. Yet he de­cries a re­built cod fish­ery that pro­vides, in his opin­ion, just two months work in plants? Go fig­ure! It’s high time par­tic­i­pants in the New­found­land and Labrador fish­ery wake up and take steps to clean house in DFO here and in Ot­tawa and re­move the cur­rent crop of po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees. There is a cry­ing need for change and new blood in all sec­tors of the fish­ing in­dus­try: govern­ment, union and pro­cess­ing.

We need strong, com­pe­tent lead­er­ship in ev­ery level of govern­ment - peo­ple with vi­sion for a mod­ern re­built in­dus­try to com­pete with Nor­way, Ice­land, Alaska and oth­ers. We need a strong mar­ket­ing arm to re­place the once very ef­fec­tive, 50-year-old arm of Fish­ery Prod­ucts Inc., which was al­lowed to be snatched away from the prov­ince by

Clear­wa­ter, and is now in the hands of NatSea. Govern­ment should never have com­mit­ted that ter­ri­ble blun­der, de­spite the stu­pid­ity of the fish pro­ces­sors and union in not ac­cept­ing for­mer premier Danny Wil­liams of­fer to pur­chase the arm.

Fed­eral and pro­vin­cial elec­tions are com­ing soon. Fish­er­men and plants work­ers in­clud­ing the 80,000 who have been forced to leave the prov­ince since the fish­ery col­lapse should com­bine to bring about ma­jor changes in fish­eries man­age­ment.

New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans should make ev­ery vote count and make cer­tain ev­ery politician elected makes a full com­mit­ment to de­mand re­build­ing the ground­fish fish­ery, with­out which the prov­ince will die on the vine soon af­ter oil and min­er­als are gone.

The MOU process will never solve the in­her­ent prob­lems in our fish­eries that have de­vel­oped as a re­sult of Ot­tawa mis­man­age­ment.

The course of ac­tion is to es­tab­lish a ju­di­cial in­quiry, a means to guar­an­tee ex­po­sure of the real prob­lems, so­lu­tions and ac­tions re­quired to re­build a mod­ern, in­ter­na­tion­ally com­pet­i­tive in­dus­try. The forth­com­ing elec­tions will pro­vide the ideal plat­form for all fish­ery par­tic­i­pants and the gen­eral pub­lic to join hands and de­mand such an in­quiry.

Gus Etchegary Fish­eries Com­mu­nity Al­liance

Por­tu­gal Cove-St. Philip’s

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