A Very Sordid Fish Tale

Grab a seat and I will share with you a fishy tale that haunts our shores.

To begin with, Newfoundland and Labrador was once a major fish exporting nation. In fact, when we joined Confederation in 1949, our abundant fish resource elevated Canada from 14th place in the world as a fish-exporting nation to 6th.

Today, we have hit rock bottom when it comes to the fishery. Canada has not rebuilt our fish resource, despite approaching 30 years after a devastating groundfish moratorium.

We elect people to our federal parliament and provincial legislature so they may safeguard our fish resource — which not only can keep communities alive, but provide badly needed jobs for a province teetering towards bankruptcy.

It all sounds good and logical, right? Except, in this story our political leaders are doing just the opposite of sound economic and cultural policy.

Not only have they long neglected to pressure Ottawa to rebuild this renewable resource we passed over (in good shape, I might add) when we joined Canada, but today, the politicians are allowing the bare bit of resource we do harvest to be exported without being processed in our communities.

Yes, N.L. cod is being shipped to Asia to have the fillet removed and skinned by machine; then it is boxed and shipped back to Sobeys, Dominion and Costco stores across Canada.

How much is being shipped out?

This fish tale gets even more incredulous or sadder, however you want to look at it.

Our group, the Fishery Community Alliance, recently went looking to every federal and provincial fishery-related department for these numbers and none could tell us how much unprocessed fish is being shipped out. True story.

We also asked if factory freezer trawler operators comply with quota allocations. It was a lethal question which they were not able to answer.

This fishy tale moves across continents. If that knowledge gap occurred in Iceland or Norway, someone would lose their job. About 10 years ago, when there was a downward trend in fish resources in Iceland, it came up with a plan to restore its fishery and today, that country is one of the most successful fishing nations in the world.

Perhaps one of the scariest parts of this sordid fish tale is not one soul in government has an idea what the real contribution of our fishery could be if properly managed, as in the case of Norway and Iceland.

The plot thickens when you consider that a common property resource belonging not just to N.L., but to the nation, is allowed to be taken over by a rogue nation, Denmark — the owner of Royal Greenland — without cabinet approval nor analysis.

Our important fish story cannot reach a happy ending unless the wild fisheries are rebuilt — that is the responsibility of the federal government in accordance with the Terms of Union.

In the meantime, the leading characters in this disgraceful story should at least get a handle on how much is being exported in an unprocessed state and repatriate those jobs back to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Unless of course, we are not job hungry.


Gus Etchegary

Fishery Community Alliance

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