We need our own research vessel

Trevor
Trevor Taylor
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As happens almost every week, I visited the waterfront last week. I usually don’t have any particular reason to go there; mostly I go just to enjoy the place, to look at the fishing boats, to see the comings and goings of the offshore supply and service vessels, and to check out any new visitors to the harbour.

I often end up out in the Outer Battery, again not for any particular reason, at least not that I am consciously aware of. Probably, like many, I am drawn there by some subconscious connection to the water, and I just like ships and boats. As I read somewhere once: “Boats … even the ugly ones are beautiful.”

On a recent visit to the Outer Battery, I ended up in Piercey’s twine shed. If you haven’t been, you should go. It was like a step back in time.

For me it was like stepping back into Frank Hill’s or Glen Penney’s or any of the numerous twine sheds that were the heart of the communities I grew up in. I have to go back, if for no other reason — like in the days when twine sheds were used for net- and trap-making — than to tell and listen to a few stories (and maybe lies) with Mr. Piercey. As the saying goes, “all fishermen are liars, except me and thee and sometimes I doubt thee.”

But back to my visit to the waterfront last week.

While there I noticed the Portuguese national research vessel Dom Carlos tied up. Of course, it is obvious why she would be in the neighbourhood.

I imagine she is doing fisheries research as part of the NAFO scientific program, on stocks on the Grand Banks. Hardly a week goes by, it seems, that there isn’t some type of research vessel visiting the harbour while working in the area or while in transit to some research project in adjacent waters.

Just recently, of course, the Celtic Explorer, the Irish research vessel, was in port while on charter, as

part of the collaborative fisheries research program between the

government of Newfoundland

and Labrador and Memorial University.

The various companies engaged in offshore oil and gas exploration have, on a regular basis, vessels under charter collecting scientific information on everything from the Earth’s subsea geology to the movement of icebergs.

Newfoundland and Labrador has over the past 30 or so years increasingly — and rightly, in my view — portrayed itself and

St. John’s specifically, as an oceans cluster, an oceans centre, an oceans technology leader — call it what you like.

From our marine simulation centres to our offshore oil platforms, we have, since the loss of the Ocean Ranger, built some of the finest oceanic research facilities and extraction structures in the world.

While activity in the waters around Newfoundland and Labrador has expanded, there has concurrently been increased activity in the waters north of us, up through Davis Strait and into Baffin Bay.

Our understanding of the depths, one could easily argue, has never been great. The spectre of climate change, its impact on everything from plankton blooms to potential changes to the great ocean currents like the North Atlantic Drift and Labrador Current, adds to that lack of understanding. Coupled with this, starting in the mid-’90s, there has been a gradual and continuous erosion of federal funding for fisheries science.

As I look at the comings and goings of the various research vessels in St. John’s harbour, I can’t help but think the time has come for Newfoundland and Labrador to have its own ocean sciences research vessel.

I am not talking about a fisheries research vessel, though it would do some of that. I am talking about a multi-purpose research platform, one of some capacity and stature, one that would provide Memorial University’s researchers and future researchers with an ability to go to sea, one that could and would do work under contract for the oil companies, one that could and would do work under contract for the federal government, one that could and would do work in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay.

What self-respecting ocean sciences centre does not have an ability to go to sea on its own vessel?

It is now time to figure out how it should happen; the days of “if” are behind us.

Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister under the Danny Williams administration. Email: trevortaylor@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Celtic Explorer, Newfoundland and Labrador and Memorial University

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Davis Strait

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Recent comments

  • Cashin Delaney
    August 20, 2013 - 17:27

    RDC gets it's money from the Oil research payments that Danny fought for, MUN gets Oil consortium donations, and our government gets royalities, the Feds own 8.5% of Hibernia. RDC put 8 mil into the OSC, the place has been upgraded to a total of 18 mil in the last 2 years. The danger is not that taxes will be used to support this research, the danger is that a significant portion is provided directly by Big Oil. Q:"What self-respecting ocean sciences centre does not have an ability to go to sea on its own vessel?" A: One that is not independant of business and government. A compromised one. Owning the boat just makes things more so. This is purchasing politician mentality. "What can I plug for ye, that benefits me." Instead of international collaboration, contracting local vessels, etc.....let's buy a boat and become a tax-funded tour operator for PC press ops. Why not get the Matthew fitted out for adventure with a stout crew of Newfie Jingo Patriots if the real purpose is propaganda. You can drink Screech all night and by day debate the finer points of punts and trap skiffs, twine sheds and stage heads, and publish distracto-blogs about your exploits of preserving heritage while letting the ocean that spawned it degrade at the mercy of corporate excess. Take Winston's temp sensor with you, and a scribbler.

  • Cyril Rogers
    August 20, 2013 - 16:49

    There is some merit in Mr. Taylor's suggestion but now is not the time to invest in a research vessel, while we have so many other pressing needs. Research that is the responsibility of the federal government is being attempted by the province but we need to hold the feds to their obligations. Unfortunately, in this as in so many things dealing with the feds, our government is so afraid of losing the loan guarantee for Muskrat Falls that they are impotent when it comes to constructively dealing with Ottawa. Many of my friends have reported huge numbers of cod in recent weeks, and fishermen are catching their quota of 5000 pounds in a couple of days, while we suffer along with the "food" fishery. It is but one more area that desperately needs more accurate research. In the meanwhile, the irony is that plants are refusing to buy the abundant cod harvest from fishermen or, worse yet, buying it to ship to the Maritimes for processing. How could it ever have come to this?

  • Pierre Neary
    August 20, 2013 - 16:23

    I am going to go into unchartered waters for me and agree with Mr. Taylor.

  • Give me a break
    August 20, 2013 - 11:21

    We need a monorail too!! Seriously, of all the things for our government to spend money on in this province, ''boil the'' ocean research isn't anywhere near the top of the list. Perhaps we could invest some money into researching the impacts of the explosion of salmon farms on the South Coast - that's if there's any money left over from the giveaways that have been handed to that industry over the last 10 years. Does the saying ''Nero fiddled while Rome burned'' mean anything to this former fisheries minister?

  • Winston Adams
    August 20, 2013 - 10:35

    Trevor, I spent 10 years collecting data on inshore water temperature to see what correlation there was between the sea temperature and when caplin would come to spawn on the beach. I am not a biologist, and did this out of interest. And the result also gave good predictive value some three months in advance of when the caplin should arrive. Last year I went to Logy Bay Lab, assuming they had a long record of the sea temperature being pumped into the lab there, and whether anyone was doing similar research on calpin, as I had been doing. They had almost no data on this. Amazing. I did source some info later from the 1870s, research done by Nova Scotia scientists at that time, but in Nfld waters, and which highly correlate with my data. My opinion, from the data, suggests the caplin and cod were driven off by unusually cold water, likey from the Artic ice melt, and a reflection of climate change. This water temperature seems to be again getting warmer here and beneficial for these stocks which are showing recovery. Your idea is a good one. But my research was done manually with a 100 dollar temperature sensor and a lot of devotion to go to the seashore, winter and summer, fair or foul weather to collect and measure the temperature. How can it be that our existing scientists, with their time and facilities, not have done this after the collapse of the caplin and cod stock over 20 years ago? It seems so basic and easy to do, if one had the desire and motivation. Winston Adams, Logy Bay

  • A Taxpayer
    August 20, 2013 - 10:27

    MUN, MI, Ocean Science Centre, etc. etc. are primarily funded by tax dollars. The ocean research currently being conducted at MUN, using the Celtic Explorer, is funded by taxpayers. Taxpayers are paying the bill for the vessel, the researchers and the research itself. Trevor now thinks the NL taxpayers should cough up a few hundred million for a vessel that can go on data collection cruses on the Grand Banks and to areas farther North. Instead of just leasing a vessel for a month we would now have the building or purchase costs to pay off but also the maintenance and personnel costs for 12 months per year. What a wasteful proposition! Why don't we just lease some of the fishing vessels we have in this province? It's not surprising that such a grandiose proposition would come from one of the minions in the former Williams administration. An administration that can lay claim to being the most tyrannical and secret governments to that point in our history. Additionally, that government not only claimed responsibility for the hard work and investment in our offshore that had occurred during 25 years prior to it being elected it set us on a path to having provincial deficits in a time when our revenues were never higher. Brian Peckford said, "one day the sun will shine and have not will be no more". The grandiose brain farts of the administration that Trevor was part of (and the ones his successors continued) has clearly set us on a path where, "One day the sun will NOT shine and have will be no more"! Trevor, please go away! You don't have to go away mad, but please for all our sakes, just go away!

  • W Bagg
    August 20, 2013 - 07:19

    maybe said vessel could double as a ferry when they break down too.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    August 20, 2013 - 06:56

    "If" only our government weren't blowing $8 billion on an unneeded concrete bunker at Muskrat Falls.