I am writing in response to a letter in The Telegram dated April 14 and bearing the name of Gail Shea, minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
I say bearing her name because the letter was undoubtedly written by a government official.
Officials should not put ministers in a bad light by sending out misleading comments in the minister’s name.
I challenge the assertion in this letter that the so-called LIFO (last in, first out) policy has been part of the shrimp fishery since 1997 and, in particular, the assertion that it was endorsed by our union.
And it is totally misleading to say that the inshore fleet today has 22,000 tonnes more than in 1997, whereas the offshore fleet has only 2,000 tonnes more than in 1997.
The fact of the matter is that when then-Fisheries minister Fred Mifflin opened the door to the inshore northern shrimp fishery, he acknowledged a “threshold” of 37,600 metric tonnes for the offshore sector — today they have quotas totalling nearly 64,000 metric tonnes.
That increase is far in excess of 2,000 metric tonnes.
The root of the misrepresentation is that the figures in the minister’s letter apply to only one of several shrimp fishing areas — the area known as SFA 6 off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The offshore sector has also benefited from substantial increases since 1997 in fishing areas north of Area 6, areas where the inshore sector has no access.
It is important to note that these areas are management areas, not separate stocks of shrimp.
In 2007, then-minister Loyola Hearn changed what had previously been temporary inshore permits to regular shrimp licences, describing this as a restructuring of the fleet, which would allow it to rationalize.
Even while Hearn was making these changes, officials in DFO were surreptitiously changing the wording of the Northern Shrimp Integrated Fisheries Management Plan, including the removal of special emphasis that had been placed on the needs of the most adjacent people and communities in the fair sharing of allocations.
Significantly reduced share
Since the year of Hearn’s announcement, the inshore share has declined from 64,900 metric tonnes to less than 34,000, while the offshore sector has virtually the identical total allocation this year that they enjoyed in 2007 — roughly 63,500 metric tonnes.
In other words, the people and communities most adjacent to the stock — those highlighted for special emphasis until DFO quietly took that reference out of the management plan — have lost 31,000 metric tonnes while in the same interval the offshore have actually gained 200 metric tonnes in direct allocations.
The lost 31,000 metric tonnes is the equivalent of the production of six shrimp plants.
During that same time period, “special allocations” which are generally fished by offshore licence holders under lease arrangements with community and/or aboriginal groups, have declined by about 11,000 to 18,200 metric tonnes.
We understand that quota decisions have to be mindful of scientific advice.
But the impacts of quota reductions have to be fairly shared, bearing in mind the impact on adjacent people and communities and respecting the principle of adjacency.
The minister’s letter closed with an assurance of “an open dialogue” in future.
That would be a refreshing change from the veil of secrecy that has characterized DFO’s handling of the northern shrimp fishery since the inshore sector was introduced to the fishery over the strong objections of top officials in the department.
What is needed is a full review of DFO’s management of this resource, including the development of the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan and the allocation principles that are so important to the survival (or not) of coastal communities.
Earle McCurdy is the president of FFAW-Unifor. He writes from St. John’s.