No de­ci­sion on owner-op­er­a­tor, fleet-sep­a­ra­tion poli­cies


Fish­eries Min­is­ter Keith Ash­field says he’s hear­ing loud and clear that peo­ple don’t want him to touch the fleet sep­a­ra­tion and owner-op­er­a­tor poli­cies.

Ash­field was in the prov­ince last week, spend­ing time check­ing out aqua­cul­ture fa­cil­i­ties on the prov­ince’s south coast as well as spend­ing time on the Burin and Avalon penin­su­las.

The visit comes as the fed­eral Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans is in the midst of a sweep­ing pol­icy re­view.

Crit­ics say the re­view could threaten the poli­cies which help main­tain the in­shore fish­ery as small, in­de­pen­dent en­ter­prises.

Dur­ing meet­ings on Wed­nes­day, Aug. 22, pro­vin­cial Fish­eries Min­is­ter Darin King raised the is­sue.

“We’re stand­ing strong as we’ve done now since the dis­cus­sion be­gan around the owner-op­er­a­tor and fleet-sep­a­ra­tion pol­icy,” King said. “We don’t be­lieve that it’s a good move to take that out right now.”

At one point dur­ing the pol­icy re­view, things got so heated that the fish­eries union or­ga­nized a protest that in­volved bang­ing sticks against the walls of the DFO build­ing in St. John’s.

Ash­field said he was sur­prised by the re­ac­tion. He said no de­ci­sions have been made and he just wanted the pol­icy re­view to have as much breadth as pos­si­ble.

“I made it very clear when I went into this process that I had no pre­con­ceived no­tions or ideas at all,” he told Transcon­ti­nen­tal Me­dia. “I just wanted hon­est ideas and feed­back from fish­er­men and peo­ple in the fish­ery.”

Since con­sul­ta­tions started, Ash­field said the re­sponse has been over­whelm­ing. More than 5,000 sub­mis­sions have been re­ceived, on a whole range of themes, but there was also a con­sis­tent trend.

“We got a lot of good feed­back and it be­came very clear that most fish­er­men or most of the sub­mis­sions we re­ceived were not in­ter­ested in do­ing any­thing with owner­op­er­a­tor or fleet-sep­a­ra­tion,” Ash­field said. “We’ll have a re­sponse to that prob­a­bly early this fall, and with no de­ci­sions made at this point.”

Broadly, Ash­field said, his No. 1 in­ter­est is in stream­lin­ing the bu­reau­cracy and mak­ing the fed­eral reg­u­la­tory sys­tem eas­ier for fish­er­men to nav­i­gate.

Ash­field was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in aqua­cul­ture on this visit to the prov­ince. He said as an MP from New Brunswick, he’s fa­mil­iar with the in­dus­try but he was amazed by the eco­nomic im­pact it’s had on the prov­ince’s south coast.

In the community of Ren­con­tre, which has no road ac­cess and only about 140 res­i­dents, Ash­field said 20 peo­ple are em­ployed full-time in the aqua­cul­ture in­dus­try.

“They’ve em­braced aqua­cul­ture there,” he said. “Aqua­cul­ture re­ally hold a lot of hope for a lot of coastal ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties where they’re able to do that kind of work.”

But Ash­field’s visit sparked a bit of con­tro­versy, mostly for what he didn’t do.

A hand­ful of fish­er­men on the south­west coast are an­gry that the gov­ern­ment re­duced their quota of greysole from 1,000 tonnes to 500.

By com­par­i­son, even be­fore the re­duc­tion, the greysole quota was around four per cent of the 24,396 tonne caplin quota.

But MP Judy Foote and MHA An­drew Par­sons say that a re­port by the Cana­dian Sci­ence Ad­vi­sory Secretariat said har­vesters could take 850 tonnes with­out threat­en­ing the fish stocks.

“That re­port in­di­cated that the catch would have to ex­ceed 850 tonnes be­fore the health of the stock would be neg­a­tively im­pacted, but they went and cut it down to 500,” Foote said. “Why did you do it? That’s not what the sci­ence rec­om­mended.”

Fish­er­men wanted to meet with the min­is­ter or a se­nior of­fi­cial within the depart­ment; af­ter pur­su­ing the mat­ter through Foote, they were of­fered a meet­ing with an as­sis­tant deputy min­is­ter if they came to Ot­tawa.

Then Foote heard that Ash­field was com­ing to New­found­land.

“You’re ex­pect­ing fish­er­men to pay to go to Ot­tawa to meet with an ADM when the min­is­ter of fish­eries is com­ing to New­found­land?” she said. “There’s some­thing wrong this pic­ture.”

Ash­field said when it came to the quota, he signed off on the rec­om­men­da­tions that his of­fi­cials gave him. He said a lot goes into those rec­om­men­da­tions, and it wouldn’t be ap­pro­pri­ate for him to sec­ond-guess that.

As for meet­ing with the fish­er­men, he said he just didn’t have time on this visit.

“Un­for­tu­nately, my sched­ule doesn’t per­mit me to meet with ev­ery in­di­vid­ual in­volved in the fish­ery. I just don’t have that kind of time,” he said. “The fact of the mat­ter is we made ev­ery ef­fort to talk to these peo­ple.”

Par­sons said that just wasn’t good enough.

“I think it’s very un­for­tu­nate that a min­is­ter of the crown can’t make time for the peo­ple that are di­rectly af­fected by his de­ci­sions,” he said. “They should at least be heard; they are a stake­holder. They should at least have their con­cerns lis­tened to.” jm­cleod@thetele­ Twit­ter:


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