Fishery advocates are declaring victory after Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield resoundingly declared that he won’t be moving to eliminate the owner-operator and fleet-separation policies that govern the east coast fishery.
Ashfield said a legitimate review of policy was hijacked and politically torqued, and that he was never seriously looking at restructuring that aspect of the fishery.
“I have been displeased — and quite frankly angered — by some of the inaccuracies that have surfaced over the past several months suggesting that the owner-operator and fleet separation policies would be eliminated,” Ashfield said. “Let me be absolutely clear: the fleet separation and owner operator policies in Atlantic Canada will remain intact.”
Earlier this year, Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials held closed-door consultations as part of a comprehensive policy review.
Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) president Earle McCurdy emerged from one of those consultations in March and reported that DFO officials would not specifically rule out changing the owner-operator and fleet-separation policies.
Those two policies serve as a bulwark against corporate ownership in the fishery, encouraging community-based harvesters who own their fish harvesting enterprises.
Following a highly-charged meeting of fishermen in late February, a group of people from the FFAW held a demonstration at the DFO building in St. John’s, giving speeches through a bullhorn and banging against the sides of the building with sticks.
Since then, a coalition of fish-harvesting groups across Atlantic Canada urged fishermen to make themselves heard, and the federal government received more than 5,000 pieces of correspondence — overwhelmingly opposing changes to the owner-operator and fleet-separation policies. All along, Ashfield has been insisting the public policy review is not aimed at those policies, but that they would not put any limits whatsoever on a comprehensive review.
McCurdy said he believes Ashfield, but he also thinks that there are senior bureaucrats who were hoping to restructure that aspect of the fishery.
“There’s people in the senior bureaucracy who very much had in mind to go down that road,” McCurdy said. “I don’t think the minister was part of it. He was genuinely trying to find out what the reaction would be.”
He added he was pleased Ashfield listened to what harvesters had to say.
New Democrat MP Ryan Cleary wasn’t so charitable. He said it became clear back in March that fishermen were overwhelmingly opposed to any change to these policies, and there’s no excuse for it to take six months to come out and say that no changes will be made.
“He knew that fishermen all over the East Coast of Canada lived in fear that this policy was going to be eliminated, so he waits months and months to definitively say this policy will not be eliminated,” he said. “And then he talks about he’s displeased and angered? He’s full of crap.”