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Being blindsided by science
Alfred Fitzpatrick says it seems the opinions of fish harvesters aren’t carrying much weight with the science branch of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) as of late.
“We always thought we had a pretty good relationship with DFO Science – when it come to crab anyways, cod is another story,” said the Garnish-based fishermen, who represents harvesters from the Burin Peninsula in crab fishing areas 10 and 11 on the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW-Unifor) union’s inshore council.
“It seems like now it’s changing. It’s not a good working relationship, not as good anyway, I’ll say.”
In a news release on Nov. 16, FFAW president Keith Sullivan said the union believes the department often views fish harvesters as an “afterthought.”
The FFAW backed up the claim with an example from earlier in the week, explaining snow crab fleet chairs from around the province were in St. John’s for meetings with DFO on Nov. 13 to talk about snow crab science and management.
Harvesters were in the process of returning home less than 24 hours later when the FFAW says it was told a briefing would be held the following day on a new science report that outlined major concerns about the future of the snow crab fishery.
The union contends the report had not been brought up during the meetings.
“It seems like DFO just wants to check boxes when it comes to consultation,” Tony Doyle, a crab harvester from Bay de Verde and inshore council vice-president, said in the release. “They have not demonstrated that they value the concerns of fish harvesters whatsoever.”
That sentiment – that DFO doesn’t take fishermen’s input seriously – is one Ronald Patey, a harvester from Englee on the Northern Peninsula, said he also agrees with.
“It seems like to me that everybody got their mind made up before you goes (to the consultations) anyway,” he said.
Patey said the information presented by DFO Science often seems to be inaccurate, citing recent research on capelin and cod as differing from what harvesters have seen on the water as examples. It makes it difficult for fishermen, he said.
“There’s no way that you can make a plan in the fishery right now from one year to the next,” he said.
Fitzpatrick, who said in his opinion the adjustment in attitude within the science branch towards harvesters seems to have coincided with a “changing of the guard” in staff, noted crab in NAFO Division 3Ps on the province’s south coast as another example of an inaccurate reflection of what fishermen have witnessed.
Fitzpatrick said information from DFO pointed to the species being “pretty much gone” in the area, but science has been surprised by the showings.
“I mean, jeez, they never fell from the sky,” Fitzpatrick says. “I mean, they had to be there somewhere. It’s just that they never picked up on ‘em. I mean fishermen was telling ‘em they didn’t think things was as bad as what science was saying it was.”
He concurred the uncertainty is hard for harvesters.
“You can’t make plans on anything for the next year because you don’t know what way things is going,” he said. “You might leave a meeting thinking things are OK or thinking you might take a little reduction or something, but all of a sudden you’re blindsided.”
“Our objective is always to ensure we provide the best possible scientific advice to Canadians,” DFO acknowledged in an emailed response to a request for comment about the claims in the FFAW release.
“New science from DFO has indicated fishing has become a factor in the decline of the snow crab stock,” the statement continued. “Last week, this new science was raised at a meeting with the FFAW about the new precautionary approach for snow crab.
“This week, DFO is hosting stakeholder meetings about the new Precautionary Approach (PA) for snow crab. DFO Science will attend these meetings and will present the science related to the PA as well as the new science on the stock.”