Speaking From Experience

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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U.S. researcher has personal connection to Newfoundland fishery

Considering the important role the fishery plays in Newfoundland and Labrador, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey believes there should be broader community involvement in fisheries policies and issues.

"In Newfoundland and other regions dependent on fishing, policies often evolve from small consultative meetings with key licence holders and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and I think an awful lot is lost in that," Bonnie McCay said in an interview Wednesday.

Bonnie McCay was photographed in August by her husband Dick Merritt, while rowing her new punt in Tilting, Fogo Island. The boat was built by Frank Lane of Tilting. - Submitted photo

Considering the important role the fishery plays in Newfoundland and Labrador, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey believes there should be broader community involvement in fisheries policies and issues.

"In Newfoundland and other regions dependent on fishing, policies often evolve from small consultative meetings with key licence holders and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and I think an awful lot is lost in that," Bonnie McCay said in an interview Wednesday.

"From what I've noted in recent years, the loss of, or movement of licences and enterprises is really large-scale and has tremendous implications for communities."

McCay is not just a U.S. academic drawing conclusions from research south of the border. She completed her doctoral research on Fogo Island in the 1970s, and says she fell in love with Newfoundland and its people. She even bought a home on Fogo Island.

"I come back certainly every summer and as often as I can," she said.

"I'm truly interested in the challenges of making a livelihood from the fishery and from a fishery that is such a seasonal challenge ... so, I came to respect people who did that."

McCay was born and raised in California. She currently chairs the human ecology department at Rutgers.

During a recent visit to the province, she gave lectures on the fishery and the work of women in rural communities.

She was in the province recently when three fishermen died off Fogo Island - two who were hunting turrs when their boat capsized and another man lost his life when a shrimp boat sank. Both incidents occurred in the same area and on the same day.

"I didn't know them personally, but I knew of them. The island is still reeling from that tragedy," McCay said.

About 10 years ago in New Jersey, eight boats involved in the clam fishery went down and 11 people lost their lives, she said.

A system of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) had been adopted, McCay said, which people thought would be safer because the fishermen could fish when they wanted to, but it didn't turn out that way.

The ITQs are often held by the processing companies, not the boat owners, she said.

"Because of corporate control, they had to go fishing when the processors wanted them to."

McCay said some of the boats were in poor condition and overloading also presented a safety hazard.

"It made people think this isn't just an automatic solution to the problem. You have to look at who's calling the shots, telling the boats when they have to come in and under what pressures are they working."

One lecture McCay presented in St. John's was a part of the Henrietta Harvey lecture series at Memorial University. She compared what she knew of the Newfoundland fishery with what she studied on Mexico's north Pacific coast and her knowledge of the fishing industry on the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast.

McCay said these are very different fisheries in some ways, but one thing they have in common is that they all used to be relatively open and free occupations, yet in recent years all have faced restrictions. In Newfoundland, she said, the cod moratorium is an example.

In Mexico, McCay said, control of the fishery has moved to individual co-operatives that have formed along the coast, each having its own exclusive fishing grounds for species such as lobster and abalone.

"They have a lot of responsibility for setting up their own rules within those fishing grounds and managing the fishery," she said.

"They do that in co-operation with the government and it's very different from what you have in Newfoundland, where you have mostly a top-down management system."

In this province, McCay said, the closest example to what she found in Mexico is probably a local lobster management initiative in Eastport.

"In the Mexican case, the co-operatives are almost the same thing as the community and they work really closely with the community to provide services to the community," McCay said.

They've also received certification from the marine stewardship council for sustainable fisheries.

In Newfoundland, she said, it seems over the years fisheries matters have become divorced from local communities, except when there's a plant closure.

"So, when there are discussions about fisheries policy, it's only the few captains who are there. You don't have representatives of the communities involved, even though it makes a big difference whether enterprises are leaving a community or not," McCay said.

She believes it's important for communities and the public to be involved in fisheries regulations and policies and possibly come up with some collective solutions to problems in the industry.

In the United States, she said the surf clam fishery was the first fishery to adopt a system of ITQs. Now it's grappling with the question of how to cope with climate change.

"It's a difficult case, a difficult issue, whether or not under an ITQ system, the industry and the government can come together and make some hard decisions to help them respond reasonably to the climate change problem," McCay said.

While these three fisheries are very different, McCay said, there are lessons that can be learned from each.

"Until you look carefully, you don't know how something is actually working somewhere else. It may on the surface look really good or look really bad some place else, but once you get to investigate, you discover there are all kinds of shades of grey and the choices are not all that simple."

dss@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Rutgers University, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Rutgers

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, California, United States New Jersey Fogo Island Mexico St. John's Pacific Eastport

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Recent comments

  • Willie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Like the lady in the picture, we don't bother wearing life jackets down this way either. A punt has to be one of the safest boats I've ever stepped aboard. No jacket required.

    Willie Hunt
    Pouch Cove NL

  • Gord
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    You gotta love wooden boats, punts, skiffs and run abouts any of them, I currently have two Chris Crafts a 1947 and a 1961. If God wanted boats to be made of fiberglass he would of grown fiberglass trees.

  • DeeBee
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    @ Eugene: There is no control over the fishery here in Newfoundland because, as someone pointed out to a previous comment I posted a few weeks back, the fishery is a federal resource, not a local one. How can Ottawa give away quotas to foreign countries (in exchange for being allowed to export wheat & oil) if Newfoundland communities - and the other Atlantic provinces - are managing our own offshore? While control of the waters surrounding Newfoundland & Labrador remains in the hands of politicians in Ottawa, it's a useless venture to try to make money from it. Factor in unions trying to get their cuts by 'protecting' the workers and you may as well spit into the wind. The intent may (or may not) be there, but governments look at unions as an automatic reason to give you as little as possible. I often wonder if fisherpeople wold be better off without them. They certainly couldn't be a whole lot worse, now could they? Control rests with the processing plants, too... not boat owners. I say let the foreign fleets have 'er, b'ys. Newfoundland fisherpeople are basically trying to squeeze blood from a stone and don't even have the support of the 'Newfoundlander on the street'. Geez, the homeless have more respect in Newfoundland than those who work in the fishery. How sad is that?

  • Eugene
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    The governments of this province (current and past) have demonstrated that they are loathe to deal with any entities that are motivated by principles other than greed (eg. local development, sustainability). It's unfortunate that the fishery has been taken out of the hands of communities and distanced from the citizens of this province; I can't even tell you if there is still a Petty Hr. or Fogo Island Fishers Co-op? Control, or at least more input, at the community level would go a long way to seeing that sustaining rural communities is a motivating factor in our fisheries, not just making a buck.

  • Willie
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Like the lady in the picture, we don't bother wearing life jackets down this way either. A punt has to be one of the safest boats I've ever stepped aboard. No jacket required.

    Willie Hunt
    Pouch Cove NL

  • Gord
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    You gotta love wooden boats, punts, skiffs and run abouts any of them, I currently have two Chris Crafts a 1947 and a 1961. If God wanted boats to be made of fiberglass he would of grown fiberglass trees.

  • DeeBee
    July 01, 2010 - 20:09

    @ Eugene: There is no control over the fishery here in Newfoundland because, as someone pointed out to a previous comment I posted a few weeks back, the fishery is a federal resource, not a local one. How can Ottawa give away quotas to foreign countries (in exchange for being allowed to export wheat & oil) if Newfoundland communities - and the other Atlantic provinces - are managing our own offshore? While control of the waters surrounding Newfoundland & Labrador remains in the hands of politicians in Ottawa, it's a useless venture to try to make money from it. Factor in unions trying to get their cuts by 'protecting' the workers and you may as well spit into the wind. The intent may (or may not) be there, but governments look at unions as an automatic reason to give you as little as possible. I often wonder if fisherpeople wold be better off without them. They certainly couldn't be a whole lot worse, now could they? Control rests with the processing plants, too... not boat owners. I say let the foreign fleets have 'er, b'ys. Newfoundland fisherpeople are basically trying to squeeze blood from a stone and don't even have the support of the 'Newfoundlander on the street'. Geez, the homeless have more respect in Newfoundland than those who work in the fishery. How sad is that?

  • Eugene
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    The governments of this province (current and past) have demonstrated that they are loathe to deal with any entities that are motivated by principles other than greed (eg. local development, sustainability). It's unfortunate that the fishery has been taken out of the hands of communities and distanced from the citizens of this province; I can't even tell you if there is still a Petty Hr. or Fogo Island Fishers Co-op? Control, or at least more input, at the community level would go a long way to seeing that sustaining rural communities is a motivating factor in our fisheries, not just making a buck.