Atlantic fishermen fear for independent fleet

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By The Sou'Wester

Fishermen's organizations from across Atlantic Canada say DFO is 'launching a top-down, centrally controlled and manipulative policy process without any notice'.

A quiet scene on the Yarmouth, N.S., waterfront. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

[YARMOUTH, NS] — Fishermen's organizations from across Atlantic Canada say the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is opening the door to the elimination of Canada's independent fishermen and moving to de-regulate the Atlantic fishery.

Representatives of 33 owner-operator fleets from Quebec to Newfoundland say the Department has shown nothing but contempt for fishermen and their organizations by launching a top-down, centrally controlled and manipulative policy process without any notice.

They released a joint policy statement on March 5 in response to the Department's discussion document "The future of Canada's Commercial Fisheries". 

The groups say the department's initiative is a barely veiled attack on the policies that protect self-employed, independent fishermen and a justification for hobbling even further Canada's dwindling fisheries science capability. They say the DFO is biased against small businesses in the fishery and in favour of large corporations. They fear the department will allow fish processors and other investors to get their hands on valuable lobster, crab and shrimp licenses.

The inshore and mid-shore owner-operator fleets in Atlantic Canada land more than 75 per cent of the value of Atlantic fisheries through their control of lobster and crab fishing and their majority share of the shrimp fishery. Under government policies in place since the early 1980s licenses to these fisheries are restricted to individual fishermen who must own and operate their own vessels. Fish companies have been trying to gain access to these licenses for years.

The fishermen's organizations say they are fearful the department plans to introduce British Columbia's disastrous license leasing schemes to the Atlantic fishery. The leasing policy in effect in BC allows non-fishermen to control licenses and quota and lease them to working fishermen for up to 75 per cent of the value of their landings.

Canada's New Democrats have called on the federal Conservative government to protect east coast fishers, fish processors, and their way of life. They say coastal communities depend on the valuable inshore fishery but the federal government seems intent on eliminating the fleet separation and owner/operator policies.

“Independent fishermen are outraged that the Minister is moving ahead with plans to eliminate the fleet separation and owner/operator policies,” said Fin Donnelly, NDP Fisheries and Oceans critic. “The Conservatives are determined to sell our fishery to the highest bidder.”

Philip Toone, NDP deputy fisheries critic said, "The DFO is not consulting fishers about these changes, which are critical to the survival of coastal communities. Once again, it appears the Minister is abandoning Canadian fishers in favour of big corporations."

“The fleet separation and owner operator policy protects many jobs and prevents the concentration of corporate power, allowing coastal communities to make a living from the fishery,” said New Democrat MP Yvon Godin (Acadie Bathurst).

Peter Stoffer (Sackville-Eastern Shore) and former NDP fisheries critic believes that eliminating the owner fleet separation policy would be a “critical error, which could lead to the eventuality of foreign control of our inshore fisheries.”

“Independent fishermen have been the backbone of the Newfoundland inshore fishery for years,” said New Democrat MP Jack Harris (St. John’s East). “Any move to eliminate this longstanding policy will only hurt fishermen and the communities that depend on the inshore fishery.”

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, NDP, Conservatives

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland, Quebec British Columbia

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  • SONARR project
    March 12, 2012 - 13:11

    ABUZZ- you have no clue, fishermen fears if the big co. take over the fishery the millions of dollars tens of thousands of jobs, injected into the province will be gone. As far as EI- you cant work a week and file a claim. Ei is a lot like welfare you can barely live, let alone make a boat payment, gear repair,ect. grow up, if you wana be negative, do your homework fist get your facts straight.....

  • abuzz
    March 09, 2012 - 10:40

    EI - it is what the fishermen fear Ottawa will take away - it is the means of their existence. The special fishers EI program allows them to obtain EI benefits year round by working less than a week per year. At the same time many of the so-called "owner/operators" get EI without even fishing by getting some else to catch their fish quotas. But you cannot blame the fishermen they are just taking advantage of the most generous Federal Government. It is much the same as what happened in Ontario under Bob Rae when it was better to be on welfare than working and people quit work to go on welfare remember. The only difference here is that it is even more profitable to be on fishers EI and in this case ONTARIO and the west are footing the bill. Great job if you can get a fish license. No wonder the unions do not want anyone else in Canada to have one.