[ATLANTIC REGION] — Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield says Canada needs to find ways to make the Atlantic fishery more profitable, even if means changing policies that would open the door to the corporatization of the seafood resource.
“Canada’s fishery could be a greater contributor to prosperity,’’ said the minister. “We want to find ways to improve how the Department of Fisheries and Oceans does its business so that we can help fishermen do theirs.”
With fishermen aging and few young people entering the field, Ashfield says it’s time to “modernize” the fishery and consider changes to some policies that have been in place for 30 years. Those include the owner operator and fleet separation policies.
Critics say “modernization” means a ‘Walmart’-type business model handing out quota licenses to a few corporations, putting fishermen back on the company payroll working off lines of credit, and creating an economic tsunami in many Atlantic coastal villages.
“For years DFO has tried to privatize and corporatize the fishery,” says NDP fisheries critic Peter Stoffer from Fall River, N.S. “They don’t want to have to deal with thousands of independent fishermen when they could deal with a few corporations.”
Ashfield said Canada has the longest coastline and best seafood in the world, but has dropped from second to eighth in exports and out-performed by smaller countries.
“We need better management practices because we can no longer rely on the sheer quantity of fish to create economic prosperity,” he said.
Liberal Leader Bob Rae has pressed Prime Minister Stephen Harper for an answer regarding the dismantling of the owner operator and fleet separation policy that would end independent licenses.
“It’s a monumental error,’’ said Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay. “And the Prime Minister should be providing answers.”
Stoffer says proposed changes to the owner operator and fleet separation policy would kill coastal communities throughout Atlantic Canada and Quebec and there would nothing to stop a few corporations from selling their quota shares to foreign interests.
“Leave it alone and stop cutting funding for science, research and enforcement,’’ he said.
P.E.I. fishermen are outraged at the proposal and have joined a protest with fishermen from around Atlantic Canada.
“If this goes through and corporations can own the boats, it will spell the end to an independent fishery as we know it,’’ says Mike McGeoghegan, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association.
“I know dealing with thousands of fishermen can be difficult, but this will be worse. And once again the plant processor would own everything and fishermen will be working at the behest of the company.”
Ashfield says he wants Canadian’s to “provide input on our website” and says tough dialogue is necessary to find solutions.
“We simply won’t make things better if this becomes an exercise in appeasing one segment of the fishery over another because they made the most noise. Everyone has to do their part and change has to come from within the industry,” he said.
“We have concerns about the viability and long term sustainability of the fishery and we want to make sure that coastal communities will, will continue to thrive and grow.”
Halifax West MP Geoff Regan says the total silence from Conservative MPs in the region is very disturbing.
“Atlantic Canadians expect their MPs to defend their interests, but government MPs refuse to stand up to the Prime Minister and fight for our fisheries,” Regan said. “Fishermen are already angry and they will not forget or forgive a betrayal which will destroy this vital sector of the economy.”