DFO is Over-Regulating the Newfoundland Fishery

It saddens me to write this sort of letter. People talk to me from all over Newfoundland and I hear the complaints from so many people on the way the Department of Fisheries does business in its enforcement role.

Every year the court dockets in the Newfoundland region are getting more names for violations under the Fisheries Act.

Since DFO started to micro-manage the fishery, many Newfoundland harvesters are getting into trouble with the thousands of regulations in the Fisheries Act. Most of these regulations have nothing to do with conservation. In my opinion it’s just a bully tactic by DFO mangers and officers.

Many of the regulations are confusing. If you catch halibut, salmon, squid or herring, etc. as a bycatch, you have to throw them back in the ocean dead or alive. Then you have people going to court for throwing fish away.

In the ‘competitive’ capelin fishery, DFO has a 45,000-pound daily cap for inshore vessels less than 40 feet. Most fish harvesters can judge this amount if they have fished the same vessel for years. The problem is when they make two trips or more to come up to the daily cap.

Ice in the cargo hold and water make it very hard to judge the number of pounds. Fish harvesters don’t carry weight scales aboard their boats. When large volumes are involved its really difficult to judge the weight. When a fish harvester shoots their seine they never know if they will get one pound or thousands of pounds.

The capelin fishery flies right in the face of conservation because there is a lot of capelin dumped that is never taken off the TAC.

Years ago, we shared this resource. If I had 100,000 pounds of capelin in my seine, I would share it with other harvesters once my boat was full. We did this with all our fish resources, now harvesters don’t know what to do so most dump the fish rather than go to court.

Not much conservation in that because these fish are never recorded and taken off the Total Allowable Catch.

It is better to have a season cap rather than a daily cap in the capelin fishery. If the season is five days this would equal 225,000 pounds spread over five days because some days, fish harvesters only get 10,000 pounds, then maybe the next day they would get 50,000 pounds and wouldn’t have to dump any.

If at the end of the capelin fishery the 225,000 pounds, plus 10 per cent tolerance, was exceeded it would come off the next year’s individuals capelin cap. Court avoided.

I can remember DFO taking fish harvesters to court for exceeding their cod quotas and then it came in with the rule that the number of pounds of codfish a harvester went over in their cod quota came off next year’s quota — a very sensible decision. Fish didn’t get dumped and people avoided court.

Fish harvesters are very perturbed with DFO. Instead of working with fish harvesters to find solutions, DFO seems to get the courts to do its dirty work rather than have meetings with the fish harvesters face to face.

Our union, the FFAW, in my opinion and in the opinion of many harvesters, has let us down. Many think most of our problems originate with the FFAW because it is the liaison, or supposed to be, for fish harvesters with DFO.

The FFAW should be more involved in representing fish harvesters in court who are caught up in the micro-managing of the fishery by DFO. It should also lobby DFO to bring in a ticket system for some breaches of the fishery act and avoid court — with fish harvesters still having the right to contest the ticket if they wish.

The fishery and sealing industry in Newfoundland are in a mess and it seems like no one cares and don’t understand the complexity of these industries, nor do they, in my opinion, want to fix it, only over-regulate them.

Most Newfoundland and Labrador water is covered with ice in the winter — no fishing or very little inshore fishing going on other than a smelt fishery with no quota or a little ice fishing for trout. Yet we have all these DFO offices with hundreds of employees costing millions of dollars working all winter.

The inshore only fishes a few months in the summer due to small quotas. What’s going on in the winter in these departments? Is boredom causing them to go through every log book to try to find flaws in a harvesters’ logs to justify their existence?

The inshore fish harvesters did the less  amount of damage to the fish stocks, yet they are the most persecuted by DFO. We feel as inshore fish harvesters, our rights and freedoms have been violated and no one cares, we are a dying breed. In my fishing career, it seems I went from fishing freedom to a sense of bondage and fear from a government department called DFO.

I call on DFO to do an anonymous poll with Newfoundland fish harvesters to see how people view its mandate in running the fishery in this province.

John Gillett,
Twillingate, N.L.

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