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It was the hyperbole we’ve come to expect: “This is very, very serious for the future of Newfoundland and Labrador, and this fishery is one on which there’s been, I can’t describe it as nothing other than skulduggery.”

That’s Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union head Earle McCurdy, talking about changes to the northern shrimp quota.

The quota’s being cut by 10,000 tonnes, and most agree the cut is needed. The problem is that the cuts are being made disproportionately: 9,000 tonnes will come from the inshore fleet, while offshore harvesters will feel much less pain.

There are arguments for the cuts being made in that way: there’s a longstanding principle that the last people to get into a fishery should be the first ones out if quotas shrink.

At the same time, the change will have a drastic effect on smaller boat fishermen and on the plants that process their catch, so McCurdy’s outrage is expected and understandable — as are political concerns raised by both the government and opposition, who can clearly count votes if they can’t calculate quotas.

McCurdy’s eruption was followed by another expected bit of fallout: the union says it is planning protest action today to help get its point across.

Here’s a suggestion: protests are fine, as far as they go. Problem is, they generate heat but rarely light, and politicians simply wait out the fuss and get on with their day.

This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t clear problems with the decision, and that there may be plenty of unexplained reasons behind the way the quota reduction was split. But none of that will come to light as a result of either a protest or angry political words.

Instead, take the case to court.

Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea has already demonstrated that she’s not above overruling her own staff to make decisions that can fly in the face of conservation. A British Columbia court caught her doing exactly that in that province’s herring fishery, a ministerial decision that she probably believed would never come to light, thanks to gag orders on fisheries scientists.

But caught she was, using a quick scribble with a pen to overrule the reasoned decision of several levels of her own department, right up to the most senior science bureaucrats. It would be interesting to look at the machinations behind this decision as well — and there’s only one way to really cut to the chase.

The FFAW has lots of nerve and enough in the way of financial resources to be able to sweat the minister in the courts for the real reasons behind the shrimp quota cut. Is it lobbying by offshore licence holders? Is it a case of Shea putting the interests of her home province of Prince Edward Island above adjacency to the fishery?

You could simply ask the federal government why it chose to go this way — but past experience shows you might not get anything close to the truth. It took court-ordered access to documents to find that out in B.C.

Seek an injunction to overturn the decision and start pulling fisheries bureaucrats and departmental documents into court. And don’t be surprised if there are federal bureaucrats who are just itching to sing.

Organizations: Allied Workers

Geographic location: British Columbia, Prince Edward Island

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