The executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers says the fishery is broken, and he hopes that the Conservative party’s new majority government will give them the ability to fix it.
Derek Butler opened his address to the Rotary Club of St. John’s weekly luncheon by noting the recent political upheaval in the Middle East, before wryly noting, “I’m optimistic that we will see substantial political reform and change in the Middle East, sadly, perhaps, before we’ll see it in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.”
The fishery is broken, Butler told the crowd, citing a litany of fights over pricing and quotas, occupied government offices — including the recent occupation of DFO offices in Corner Brook — and $700,000 spent on a memorandum of understanding that Butler called “dead on arrival.”
Butler also painted a bleak picture of the last few years of production: “In 2008, the total value, landed value — the prices we paid fishermen — $528 million. Not bad. In 2009, that fell to $423 million. That’s over $100 million out of the pockets of harvesters,” he said. “And on this score, I will agree with Mr. Earle McCurdy, the FFAW president — that’s over $100 million that harvesters could ill afford to lose. Unearned income. Not to mention EI income, and that’s another issue.” Landed value was up only $16 million last year, and declining quotas as well as the cyclical nature of shellfish fishing means things won’t get better any time soon, he said — and he’s worried that shellfish will dry up before ground fish recover.
“We’re going to see shellfish changes, we’re going to see resource regime changes, and I fear before we ever get to ground fish recovery, we’ll be in a no man’s land, so I see bad times coming again,” he said.
Decrying decisions made for short-term considerations and political expediency, Butler said a partial solution lies in the creation of a new Fisheries Act.
“The current federal Fisheries Act is one of the oldest pieces of legislation we have on the books. One of the shortcomings is it gives the minister almost complete — in the words of the legislation, ‘absolute’ — discretion. Previous drafts of a new act have been proposed by various governments, and most recent drafts have taken out ‘absolute discretion,’” he said. “That’s a good thing. The minister’s absolute discretion must be removed when it comes to talking about resource. That is one practical, good step to make, in terms of changing the political influence brought to bear on a minister when he or she is faced with difficult decisions. If the minister has complete discretion, then ‘You fix it’ becomes the rallying cry. ‘You can do something about this. You hold the pen.’”
Removing political pressure will strengthen a minister’s ability to make fishery decisions based on the health of the resource itself, said Butler.
“I’m pleased that the current federal government has tried that in minority situations, and I encourage them to bring it forward in a majority situation,” he said. “We need a new Fisheries Act, for the sake of the fish.”