Cut and run

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Many observers of Thursday’s federal budget have come to the conclusion that it’s pretty much a stay-the-course document, long, perhaps, on politics and short on detail.

Cuts in some tariffs and increases in others, support for manufacturing companies and plans to expand the skilled workforce for manufacturers — all plans that were pretty widely telegraphed by the Harper government in the days leading up to the budget.

But there’s still plenty of fine print that probably won’t become clear until the government tables its estimates document. Some of the places to look?

Well, the budget promises increased revenues by closing tax loopholes (without being entirely clear on what those loopholes are), while cutting costs at line departments like Defence, and Fisheries and Oceans. And that second one? Well, cuts to DFO should prompt concern here.

DFO is facing a cut of $4 million in 2013-14 and $5 million the next year, on top of hefty cuts last year. After that, the cuts jump to $33 million a year. In the three years beginning in 2015, cuts see the department losing $100 million in funding.

Right now, the government is saying it will find the savings by reducing overhead and duplication in DFO’s administration. The documents claim, “Organizational changes required to generate these savings will not impact front line staff or services to Canadians.”

It’s hard to believe that will be the case; already the victim of regular nip-and-tuck trimming, along with regular major surgery, it’s hard to imagine there’s much fat left anywhere in DFO.

And that’s not good for fisheries science or enforcement.

But in a strange turn of events Thursday, there was other news that might end up help fishing stocks.

The world’s sixth-largest fishing company, Pescanova, which operates 100 factory-freezer vessels — including some that fish the northwest Atlantic — is suddenly in deep financial trouble.

The company filed for insolvency protection on March 1, amidst reports that there is a huge financial discrepancy in its books — the company had debt of 1.5 billion euros last September, but as a result of a “non-quantifiable difference in figures,” that debt might actually be 2.6 billion euros. All in all, it’s a remarkable change of fortunes for the company, which started over 50 years ago in Vigo, Spain — one of the main centres for factory-freezer vessels fishing the nose and tail of the Grand Banks — and it means the fishing giant’s future is up in the air. That doesn’t necessarily mean a change in the fishing effort here — but fishing off Newfoundland is an expensive undertaking for the company.

It would be a strange irony to think that, while our own federal government may be steadfast in diminishing its role in the protection and understanding of fisheries, the world economic collapse may actually come to the aid of the fishery — a fishery which Ottawa seems less and less concerned about.

Organizations: Pescanova

Geographic location: DFO.And, Atlantic, Vigo Spain Newfoundland Ottawa

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