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Key policies need to go further: fishermen

Fishing boats at St. John’s harbour Wednesday. Many fishermen are doubtful owner-operator and fleet separation policies can be enforced enough to be effective.
Fishing boats at St. John’s harbour Wednesday. Many fishermen are doubtful owner-operator and fleet separation policies can be enforced enough to be effective.

If the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) wants to protect the owner-operator and fleet-separation policies, it’s going to have to do a little more than amend the Fisheries Act to enshrine the policies in law, some fishermen say.

The policies were designed to preserve the independence of the inshore fishery: the owner-operator policy was meant to ensure licences didn’t end up being controlled by a few, and the fleet-separation policy prohibits fish processors or other corporate interests from owning or controlling inshore fishing licences.

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced Tuesday in Nova Scotia the amendments would allow the minister of the department to create regulations under law to prohibit a fisherman from using a licence to enter a controlling arrangement with a buyer or fish processing company.

Richard Gillett, however, an inshore fisherman from Twillingate who carried out an 11-day hunger strike in April outside DFO headquarters in St. John’s to protest what he claimed was fisheries mismanagement, said the statement by LeBlanc Tuesday was only “lip-service.”

He said that in 2007, DFO gave fishermen seven years to get out of controlling agreements. A controlling agreement is one between a fishing licence holder and a company that permits the company to control or influence the licence holder’s decisions surrounding the licence, including where to sell the catch and if it can be transferred or sold.

After 2014, Gillett said, controlling agreements were illegal.

“To get around it, (a company and fisherman) changed it from a controlling agreement to a financial agreement,” Gillett said. “(The processor) fronts the money for the licence and you get the licence in your name only, but it’s a financial agreement which is perfectly legal.

“If they are going to wipe out these licences from these companies they are going to have to stop these financial agreements.”

In his speech Wednesday, LeBlanc said he was aware the policies will not completely eliminate the issue of third parties trying to assert control over the inshore fisheries.

“Fisheries policy is no different than any other policy area — when there are rules, there will be people trying to figure out how to circumvent them,” he said. “Some fishers and companies devote inordinate amounts of resources working to get around the rules. But we will continue to work harder to enforce the rules.”

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union (FFAW-Unifor) said LeBlanc’s announcement came after calls from fishing organizations across Canada for DFO to keep fishing licences in the hands of those who do the fishing and to take concrete steps to enforce the policies.

FFAW president Keith Sullivan said the amendments to the Fisheries Act would help protect an independent owner-operator fishery.

“The best way to build a strong middle class, create jobs and protect and strengthen the economy in coastal communities is through enforcing the owner-operator and fleet-separation policies,” Sullivan said.

Some fishermen on the wharf in and around the St. John’s area Wednesday said they were doubtful the amendments would be enough to ensure the independence of the inshore fishery.

One fisherman at Prossers Rock small boat basin in St. John’s harbour, who did not give his name, said he thinks it might already be too late.

“Many fishermen are owned by the processors,” he said. “If it keeps going, the real independent fellers won’t matter anyway.”

The Canadian Independent Fish Harvester’s Federation (CIFHF), whose meeting LeBlanc was addressing when he made the statement, said they welcomed the announcement. The group said it will work with DFO staff to ensure enforcement and protection of the owner-operator fishery in Canada.

“It is imperative for coastal communities across the country that the owner-operator and fleet-separation policies and their benefits stay with the coastal communities” CIFHF president Melanie Sonnenberg stated in a news release.

“The continued support and understanding of the importance of the small-boat fishery by the Government of Canada is greatly appreciated by federation members across Canada.

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