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FFAW, FISH-NL at odds over what Fisheries Act amendments will mean for N.L.'s inshore fishery

The federal Liberal Government said Tuesday it is restoring protections for the fishing industry that were taken away by the former Conservative government in 2012.

And, in making the announcement, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc said there is more good news for the country’s fishing industry.

The minister announced $284.2 million to support the restoration of protections to fish and fish habitats and to incorporate new modern safeguards in the industry.

“To preserve, protect and help restore our environment we need a Fisheries Act that Canadians can trust,” LeBlanc stated at a news conference in Vancouver.

“I am pleased we are introducing amendments to the Fisheries Act that will restore the protections for fish and fish habitat that were lost under the previous government. We are responding to calls from Canadians who told us clearly that the health of our fish and ecosystems is important to them, and that they want us to protect and rebuild fish habitat.

“By restoring lost protections and incorporating modern safeguards, we are creating a Fisheries Act for the future to preserve our precious resources for generations to come.”

Keith Sullivan, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW-Unifor) union, was quick to claim victory, saying the changes come after years of advocating changes to legislation.

“We have worked closely with our fellow harvester organizations in Atlantic Canada to present a clear argument for greater and better enforced protections for independent fish harvesters,” Sullivan said. “(Tuesday’s) announcement is proof that our efforts are worthwhile.“

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), however, says LeBlanc failed to include the principles of adjacency and historical attachment in the amendments to ensure inshore harvesters have priority access to fish off their shores.

FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary called it “a grave injustice.”

“It’s one thing for (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s) government to move to protect the independent commercial fishery, but that’s useless unless harvesters have fish to catch,” Cleary said.

“Harvesters living adjacent to the resource and with a historical attachment must be given priority access to the resource, and the changes to the Fisheries Act do not reflect that.”

According to a news release, the proposed amendments LeBlanc announced are expected to: restore lost protections by returning to comprehensive protection against harming all fish and fish habitat; strengthen the role of Indigenous peoples in project reviews, monitoring and policy development; recognize that decisions can be guided by principles of sustainability, precaution and ecosystem management; promote restoration of degraded habitat and rebuilding of depleted fish stocks; allow for the better management of large and small projects impacting fish and fish habitat through a new permitting framework and codes of practice; create full transparency for projects with a public registry; create new fisheries management tools to enhance the protection of fish and ecosystems; strengthen the long-term protection of marine refuges for biodiversity; help ensure the economic benefits of fishing remain with the licence holders and their community by providing clear ability to enshrine current inshore fisheries policies into regulations; and clarify and modernize enforcement powers to address emerging fisheries issues and to align with current provisions in other legislation.

Sullivan said the amendments will provide legal protection to the owner-operator and fleet separation policies which protect the independence of the inshore fishery and the coastal communities that rely on it.

“The capacity of the minister to make fishery decisions to protect the economic independence and sustainability of inshore harvesters and coastal communities has been repeatedly challenged by the corporate interests in the fishery,” Sullivan said. “The proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act remove any ambiguity, clearly stating that the minister may make decisions to protect independent inshore licence holders and the communities that rely upon them.”

Cleary said FISH-NL wrote to Trudeau’s office last October requesting that all current quota allocations and management practices be reviewed to ensure that Newfoundland and Labrador inshore harvesters benefit from the adjacency principle adopted by the Liberal Party of Canada in 2016.

Similar to the principles of the Atlantic Accord with the offshore oil and gas industry, FISH-NL has taken the stand that Newfoundland and Labrador must be the “principle beneficiary” of all fish resources adjacent to the province’s shores, Cleary stated.

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