“When cod bleed oil and gas, that’s when you’ll be looked at!”
It was a flippant comment hurled into the middle of the conversation by an unidentified fisherman, but it seemed to sum up the feelings in the room pretty well.
The event was dubbed Making Waves, and it was a small public gathering organized by Ryan Cleary’s office. The St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP invited anyone who was interested to come to The Battery Hotel in St. John’s to talk about the future of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.
The question Cleary put to the crowd: How do we make waves and effect change in the fishery?
“Newfoundland and Labrador can’t just be about Band-Aids and short-term solutions and 18 weeks of work here and 20 weeks of work there,” said Cleary in his opening remarks. “We can’t be about that. There’s got to be a future in it with year-round jobs.”
After his preamble Cleary turned the floor over to the crowd and acted as a moderator and commentator.
Between 40 and 50 people crowded into one of the hotel’s small multipurpose rooms. Not a huge number considering the importance of the fishing industry to the province, but those who did show seemed to represent a cross-section of people with a stake in the industry.
There were scientists, retired politicians, sitting politicians, fishermen young and old, university students, business people and the just plain curious.
The discussion that came from this diverse group was lively, though there seemed to be a lot more questions raised than answers provided.
There was also a fair amount of finger-pointing at various factors that may led to the collapse of the northern cod stocks, although Cleary tried to keep the conversation aimed at what to do about the situation now rather than what went wrong decades ago.
The bit of conversation that seemed to get the most thoughtful comments came after someone thanked Cleary for standing up for the fishery in Ottawa, by first pushing for an inquiry into the collapse of the cod stocks and now for pushing for a recovery strategy. They also bemoaned what they called an apparent lack of political will to do anything about either of these ideas.
That elicited a comment from Paradise resident Wayne Holloway who, by his own description, has nothing to do with the fishery other than being a proud Newfoundlander.
“If you look at the fishery, there isn’t unity in the harvesting sector. There isn’t unity in the processing sector. There isn’t unity amongst political parties,” said Holloway.
“So we’re all divided, which is an easy way for the federal government to manage us. And the more we keep fighting amongst ourselves and with ourselves the less effective we’re ever going to be on the fishery,” he said.
“In Ottawa there are more MPs missing from Ontario or sleeping on the back benches than we have representing us on any one day. So how can we have an impact in Ottawa when really ... (Cleary is) the only person fighting for us?”
Mike Hearn, a lifelong fisherman from Petty Harbour, had a similar point of view.
“I don’t care what stripe you are, NDP, PC or Liberal, go on do your thing. But you should be backing the fishery 100 per cent, which is not happening. The only way to make waves is if the Newfoundland government gets behind what (Cleary is) doing now. We could make big waves in Ottawa. Otherwise we’re not going to make it,” said Hearn.
Cleary used comments like these to springboard to his overarching theme throughout the meeting, which was the need for a long-term plan for the fishery.
Unity such as the kind these men talked about is what is needed to kick-start these plans, said Cleary.
“The problems I heard here this evening I heard 20 years ago. The problem is that we have these problems and nothing is ever done about them ... all these reports, all these studies ... nothing is done. The point was made here tonight that we need the political will and fundamentally that’s what we need. We need the political will provincially first. Then you put the pressure on the feds that control the harvesting to do what needs to be done,” he said.