Fishing for solutions

Karen Wells
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Two local fishermen heading for France for ideas summit

Stephen Brinson and Alvin Richards are heading to France this week to take part in the International Professional Inshore and Small Scale Fishers Meeting. Photo courtesy of Maureen Woodrow

Two fishermen from Change Islands will be heading to Biarritz, France this week to share their know-how and to talk about how inshore fishing helps sustain coastal communities.
Stephen Brinson and Alvin Richards, along with other fishers from Eastern Canada, will join counterparts from France, Spain, Portugal and other countries for the International Professional Inshore and Small Scale Fishers Meeting, which starts Wednesday.
Maureen Woodrow, a seasonal Change Islands resident and an adjunct professor at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, will be there, too.
Her area of expertise is the sustainability of rural coastal communities and she believes the inshore fishery plays a vital role, even though she says the fishery has become over-regulated to the point where it is difficult for fishermen to make a living.
She and Brinson will give a joint presentation in France about best practices in the fishery, focusing on how traditional knowledge has adapted in response to global change.
Brinson has 36 years of fishing knowledge to share. He's also the new mayor of Change Islands. He's seen things go from the pre-moratorium days where there were close to 100 core fishermen on Change Islands to today when there are only 21.
"A few years ago, the fishery was the mainstay in most communities, and most people survived in the fishery through hard times and good times," Brinson said.
"Since the closure of the cod fishery, a lot of things have changed. There are communities that just can't survive now on the fishery. (Inshore fishermen with vessels under 35 feet are) at the short end of the scale in terms of who is going to go first if the fishery gets worse."
Brinson said the quotas for snow crab and a bit of cod can keep the remaining fishermen going, but there isn't much breathing room.
"It's a year-to-year thing. Myself, I can cope with that because I've been in the fishery 36 years and we've had some rough times," he said.
"Even when the cod fishery was good, you still had times when you didn't do well, but you survived. The way things are now, everything is so expensive to operate. It's a different industry from when I started out."
Brinson said they've weathered a bad season this year, but he doesn't know if they can sustain another hit next year.
He also worries that fishermen are a dying breed. He said last season there was a young fisherman on Change Islands who had to get out of the fishery due to regulations that kept him from buddying up with someone else to catch his quota of crab. The young man couldn't afford to buy his own boat.
"We are the last of the fishermen here," said Brinson.
"There's no young fishermen. I'm 51 and there are a few fishermen here in their forties, but there's none younger than that. Years ago the fishery had young men getting involved every year. They were making a living and enjoying what they were doing. We are the last ones.
"When we go that's it, unless something drastically changes."
That's one of the reasons why he's going to France. He wants to see if there are communities from other countries that have faced similar circumstances
Brinson can recall when close to 50 people worked at the local fishplant. Now there are only 20, and many of them don't get enough work to qualify for employment insurance. Make-work projects have been put in place so that plant workers can get the hours they need.
The French meetings have been organized by research institute Ifremer (www.ifremer.fr/anglais), along with the national committee of maritime fishery and ocean aquaculture and the national committee of professional fresh water fisheries.

Organizations: Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa

Geographic location: France, Change Islands, Biarritz Eastern Canada Spain Portugal

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