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Fishery Community Alliance wants next government to push for a joint-management regime with Ottawa
Many Newfoundland and Labrador premiers have tried, and all have failed, to convince Ottawa to go with a joint-management regime for the province’s commercial fishery.
That’s not stopping one special interest group, and one party, from throwing the idea back on the table during the 2021 election campaign.
In a news release this week the Fishery Community Alliance, a volunteer lobby group, said the next government of Newfoundland and Labrador must push for a joint-management regime with Ottawa.
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“We must have equal say in how our resources are managed,” the group said in the release, adding that this province should have an Atlantic Accord oil-and gas-style agreement to ensure the province is the main economic beneficiary of the fishery.
Gus Etchegary, chairman of the group, has been a critical and outspoken voice on fishery management since before 1992.
The years of fighting on fishery matters have not dulled his passion to see change.
“We entered Confederation with the largest, most diversified fishery in the world, and now we’re down to crab and shrimp." — Gus Etchegary
The 97-year-old speaks eloquently, his voice strong and commanding, of the need for radical changes for a stronger industry, and a better future for rural economies.
“We entered Confederation with the largest, most diversified fishery in the world, and now we’re down to crab and shrimp,” he told SaltWire in a phone interview this week.
During the 1992 moratorium, he noted, 30,000 people lost their jobs, and Canada didn't seem to care.
“If that had happened in any other industry, anywhere else in Canada, it would have been deemed a national emergency,” he said.
The past can’t be changed, however, but Etchegary thinks the future can be different and better if political leaders in this province are suitably strong-willed.
His group believes it needs to start with a task force involving experienced scientists, industry representatives — including fishers from the inshore and offshore sectors — and representatives from both the provincial and federal governments.
Anyone who doesn’t think the fishing industry can be the backbone of a strong rural, and provincial, economy, he said, need only to look to the Scandinavian counties of Iceland and Norway.
Etchegary said this province can learn a lot from Iceland, a country that has seen its population grow from 245,000 in 1985 to 345,000 today, and where the fishing industry is not only providing jobs for local citizens but drawing immigrants from across the European Union for work.
“In Norway, from the Barents Sea, they have a quota of 800,000 tonnes of cod to catch,” he said, adding the commercial fishery in this province used to catch that amount of cod annually, until catches began to dwindle in the late 1980s, leading to the moratorium.
Part of the problem with the industry in this province, he charges, is that “successive premiers and governments have had very little interest in doing anything about the fishery.
FFAW wish list
The Fish Food and Allied Workers’ (FFAW-UNIFOR) union, meanwhile, is focused on processing rules and labour regulations in its questions to candidates during the provincial election campaign.
In a document titled, “Rural Opportunities for Provincial Prosperity” posted on its website the union is recommending some “to dos” for the next provincial government.
For one thing, the FFAW is recommending changes to the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act. They say the legislation needs to allow for a second reconsideration of a pricing decision by the Standing Fish Pricing Panel to provide for more accountability of the panel and ensure that bargained prices are more reflective of the market.
Currently, the panel operates under a “final offer selection” model, choosing between the price suggested by the FFAW and the price suggested by the Association of Seafood Processors (ASP).
Election candidates are knocking on doors in January, and we're bringing 15,000 doors to them virtually this week! 🔴...Posted by FFAW/Unifor on Tuesday, January 26, 2021
The union also wants the province to add another layer of regulations, beyond the owner/operator regulations outlined in the Federal Fisheries Act, to ensure fish processing companies cannot control inshore fishing licenses.
“This remains the biggest threat to the sustainability of the inshore fishery and coastal communities,” the union contends in its document.
The union also recommends the province do more to support young fish harvesters and new entrants by adjusting the province’s loan guarantee programs and providing funding for women entering the fishery.
The union also reiterated the value of the fishery to the province’s economy, noting the inshore fishery was worth $1.5 billion in 2019, and snow crab alone that year was worth $500 million.
“In 2020, at a time when countless sectors experienced layoffs and closures, and despite uncertain markets and a dismal snow crab price, the fishery did not have any layoffs, proving the economic stability a vibrant fishery provides to our rural coastal communities.”
To view the entire document, visit: https://ffaw.ca/app/uploads/2021/01/Election-2021-Lobby-Doc-Web-1.pdf
With the exception of PC leader Ches Crosbie’s assertion last week that his party would lobby Ottawa for joint management of the fishery — a promise they also spelled out in their 2019 election campaign — there haven’t been any promises or ideas offered up by any of the contenders during the 2021 campaign so far.
A spokesperson for the Progressive Conservatives said the party would unveil its complete election platform, including its ideas on the fishery, later this week.
Neither the Liberal Party, nor the New Democratic Party, have said anything about the fishery and neither of them have made their election platforms available online.
The NDP said in an email it will be unveiling its platform on the fishery later this week.
Who’s in charge of the fishery
The fishing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador falls under federal, as well as provincial, jurisdiction.
Here is a brief sample of who regulates what.
- Ottawa, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Fisheries Act, regulates commercial fishing quotas, handles applications for commercial fishing licences, and provides science and research on fish stocks.
- Transport Canada oversees regulations around marine safety, including inspections of commercial fishing boats, search and rescue operations and investigations of marine accidents.
- The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has jurisdiction over the business of fish processing and the licensing of fish processing businesses through the Fish Processing Licensing Board.
- The province is also involved in fish pricing, through the Standing Fish Price Setting Panel, which handles negotiations between the Fish Food and Allied Workers and seafood processing companies.
- The province also has jurisdiction over the aquaculture industry, handling applications and permits through environment, municipal and industry departments.
- Fishing industry labour standards, both on board vessels and in fish processing plants, is also under the jurisdiction of Workplace NL.