Forgive my confusion. After one too many blows to the intellect, I suddenly thought I was back in the late 1980s again.
Remember the 1980s and early ’90s? The heady times when politicians took scientific suggestions and torqued them up to allow for the largest fish catches possible — when the best way to build a fishery was for provincial governments to dole out more licences and make more people dependent on what was actually a failing resource?
You would think that would be hard for anyone to forget — and equally, you’d think that we would have moved forward, at least a bit.
Some things haven’t changed: we’re still fishing tiny little fish that will never grow big enough to become reproductive anchors for future fisheries. There’s a huge fight right now about shipping yellowtail from Marystown to China for further processing, the rule that was in place allowing fish that weighed 380 grams or less (in other words, less than the weight of a can of pop) to be shipped away for foreign processing. Why are we still catching fish that are too darned small to be processed profitably here anyway?
But back to the point at hand, and the latest blast from the past.
Last week, the provincial Liberals released their election policy for the fishery. Buried in among the retro ideas was this fascinating commitment: “The present total allowable catch for northern cod (2J3KL) per licence holder is 3,750 pounds. Inshore fishermen are identifying a major return of the cod stock in the Labrador Straits and on the Northern Peninsula.
“Based on the outcome of our inventory review of fish species, a new Liberal government will make a recommendation to the federal government to increase the total allowable catch to 10,000 pounds per licence holder.”
It is, to put it bluntly, absolutely mind-boggling that, after all of the pain and suffering of the groundfish moratorium, a provincial party would trot out the idea of blindly increasing the inshore TAC on northern cod by more than 250 per cent. Does the Liberal party have any science we’re not aware of? Any new stock numbers that would indicate that the stock could actually handle such an increase? Anything more than “somebody said there was more fish”?
(Here’s a blinding flash of brilliance — there is no fisheries science branch with the provincial Liberal party. Because of that, the decision to offer this quota increase must have come from the “let’s-tell-them-whatever-they-want-to-hear” division.)
Now, the Liberals can’t actually set a quota. Even if they formed a government, they’d have absolutely no pull whatsoever with the federal government to even come close to delivering on that promise.
Not only that, but they’ve couched their promise by saying the increase would go ahead only if their “inventory review of fish species” said the increase could go ahead.
In other words, the probability of the promise ever being delivered on is so small as to be essentially microscopic — if the Liberals are elected, and if the review says yes, and if those same Liberals can convince the federal government to do something the feds have absolutely no intention of doing, then voila!
It isn’t going to happen.
But that doesn’t take away from the sheer wrong-headedness of including this idea in the Liberal platform.
Playing crass, bare-knuckle old-school politics with quotas?
Buying votes with fish?
As shortsighted as handing out a crab processing licence to everybody and their cousin — oh, wait. The provincial Liberals did that, too, and not that long ago.
When your recipe calls for mixing fish with politics, the result is rarely palatable — or, for that matter, environmentally sustainable.
And, leaving the obvious electoral desperation of the plan aside, I can’t help but think one single thing.
Almost 20 years on, have we learned absolutely nothing?
They say if you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it.
Here’s living proof.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.