In March, the news broke that DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) spent untold millions completing two weeks of science work for redfish on the Mersey Venture, a 200-foot factory freezer trawler owned by Mersey Seafoods and part of the offshore lobby group, the Atlantic Groundfish Council, headed by Bruce Chapman.
Go on, ‘by. Surely the Union’s not out complaining about the government doing more science work when that’s what they’re going on about half the time?
In an effort to simplify the complex history behind the issue, I’ll give readers some background.
In a nutshell, DFO Science is directly subsidizing corporate offshore fisheries development at the expense of coastal communities and the owner-operator fishery.
The redfish fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is broken up into two distinct stocks and areas. Unit 1 with a biomass of 3,225,000 tonnes and Unit 2’s biomass of 906,000 tonnes, or a third the size of the Unit 1 fishery. Both fisheries are adjacent to the Newfoundland and Labrador and ancestral territories of Indigenous groups.
Both Unit 1 and 2 are in the sights of the corporate offshore fleet, mouths frothing at the prospect of never having a single redfish ever touch the shores of Canada.
Yet unlike the offshore vessels that travel far and wide and have access to mountains of resources far from the doorstep of the people who live in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Unit 1 redfish fishery is desperately needed for the Newfoundland and Labrador shrimp fleets who are facing certain extinction.
For the most part, these inshore fleets have very little to fall back on, not having access to the more lucrative snow crab resource much of our inshore fishery benefits from. Without a commercialized Unit 1 redfish fishery, parts of the west coast and northern peninsula will lose their primary economic driver.
This is not a dramatization. A total of 34 owner-operator enterprises and nearly 200 crew members in our province will be out of work this year if our federal government doesn’t stop and take a good hard look at what they’re doing.
The FFAW has done a massive amount of work over the last few years because the opportunity for redfish was clear to harvesters early on, and they knew they had to be prepared to ensure a sustainable and viable commercial fishery. That work, done by our internal science department in collaboration with dozens of fish harvesters over several years, has shown that a Unit 1 redfish fishery harvested by the inshore fleet would not harm the Atlantic halibut fishery or other groundfish species. Unlike the Unit 2 offshore fishery, which is rumored to be dragging up halibut by-catch at terrifying rates.
But requests to expand Unit 1 into a commercial fishery, outside of the constraints and impediments of an experimental fishery, have been thus far declined by DFO. With a healthy resource and a clear way forward to fish sustainably, inshore harvesters are positively stunned by DFO’s proposal to maintain an experimental fishery in Unit 1 this year.
It’s almost like those in government are actively working against their own objectives.
Enshrined objectives to support independent inshore license holders, to recognize social, economic, and cultural factors and the preservation or promotion of the independence of licence holders in commercial inshore fisheries, per a little thing called the Fisheries Act.
So back to the issue with the multi-million-dollar science work on the offshore trawler. What does this mean exactly?
Well, it means that DFO Science just gave the corporate offshore companies a financial leg-up in maintaining the financial viability of that fleet. It also means that DFO Science just gave the offshore fleet an advantage of information, experience and access.
So, instead of partnering with many smaller vessels, to support the long-term viability of coastal communities and the owner-operator inshore fishery, DFO Science just gave the offshore a blatant unfair advantage.
Why? It’s all about those creature comforts. DFO Scientists prefer the roomy expanse of those offshore behemoths where they can congregate in numbers and still have their own sleeping quarters.
The cherry on the cake of DFO Science’s recent downward spiral — the Unit 2 redfish fishery that is now being fully propped up by DFO for the offshore — is that the Qualipu First Nation has a territorial claim to the Unit 2 fishery.
In more simple terms, shouldn’t our government work to protect jobs, communities and Indigenous claims, instead of contributing to their decimation?
Granting and investing in an uneven advantage to the offshore just because it’s “easier” for fisheries scientists to go on larger vessels is BS, if you’ll pardon the inference.
With its hefty three-year deal, DFO Science is now propping up a single vessel with a handful of jobs at the expense of an entire fleet, at the expense of hundreds if not thousands of working Canadians. They are propping up the corporate offshore at the expense of our communities.
So that, readers, is what our Union takes issue with.