As the famous Scottish poet Robbie Burns once penned, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
2020 might go down as one of the strangest years ever, but 2021 is already trying it’s best to give last year a run for its money.
By now, a new Newfoundland and Labrador provincial government should have been settled into the Confederation Building in St. John’s and be busy at work on such key tasks as addressing a massive debt, compiling the 2021 budget, picking out office paint swatches, etc… You get the idea, important government-type stuff.
But, just like everything else over the last 12 months, things did not go exactly as planned.
As you are all aware, on January 13, N.L. Premier Andrew Furey rolled the dice and called a mid-winter election, smack in the middle of the first global pandemic in more than 100 years. Nothing could possibly go wrong, could it?
Fast forward to The Navigator’s April press deadline and the provincial election is still in a state of flux.
The arrival of the COVID-19 U.K. variant to the shores of Newfoundland in early February brought Furey’s election plans to a screeching halt. Everything was locked down again by public health officials, all in-person voting was scrapped for the February 13 election day, leaving only the option of mail-in ballots. And there is still no clear timeline on when the votes will be tallied and results released.
Thus, as a result of this extended election campaign, it affords an ample opportunity to peruse how the province’s three main political parties are addressing one of the major industry topics right now, the Preserving the Independence of the Inshore Fleet in Canada’s Atlantic Fisheries policy or PIIFCAF as it is better known.
First, a quick refresher.
In 2019, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) said amendments to the Fisheries Act helped put the regulatory tools in place to more fully meet both departmental objectives and calls from stakeholders to provide greater protection to owner-operators in the inshore.
The modernized Fisheries Act recognized that when making decisions under the Act, the federal fisheries minister can take into account:
- social, economic and cultural factors
- the preservation or promotion of the independence of licence holders in commercial inshore fisheries in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
Along with strengthening authorities in the Fisheries Act, DFO made regulatory amendments to the Atlantic Fishery Regulations, 1985 and the Maritime Provinces Fishery Regulations to clarify the rules governing inshore licences and to create new enforceable requirements. This was aimed at helping ensure licences remain in the hands of local, independent fish harvesters.
These included rules that:
- ensure the licence holder retained the benefits generated by fishing;
- ensure the licence holder is the one fishing under that licence;
- prohibited ineligible third parties from holding licences in the inshore sector;
- prohibited ineligible third parties from using and controlling any of the rights and privileges conferred under a licence in the inshore sector and
- imposed enforceable requirements which, in cases where they are violated by agreements entered into by licence holders, would make the holders subject to the suspension or cancellation of the licences issued to them.
More recently, as of December 9, 2020, the regulations now require that:
- an inshore and coastal licence can only be issued to an eligible individual, their estate or their wholly-owned company, or to an organization that has been issued an allocation of fish to catch and
- holders of inshore and coastal licences, operators named in these licences, or authorized substitute operators, personally fish the licence. These elements apply to inshore and coastal licences currently subject to the Owner-Operator policy and the Fleet Separation policy.
As of April 1, 2021, further regulatory amendments will come into force that:
- prohibit against the licence holder transferring the use or control of the rights and privileges conferred under a licence to any third party;
- prohibit against anyone other than the licence holder to use or control the rights and privileges associated with a licence and
- provide for eligibility criteria restricting the issuance of licences only to those applicants (including current licence holders applying for renewal) that have not transferred the use and control of the rights and privileges of the licence.
“These three elements apply to the inshore licences held by licence holders currently subject to the Preserving the Independence of the Inshore Fleet in Canada’s Atlantic Fisheries policy (PIIFCAF), but once in place will have the force of law,” DFO explained.
Also, as of April 1, 2021, the rights and privileges obtained through a licence to fish will be prohibited from being transferred, unless otherwise authorized by the regulations. These rights and privileges include, but are not limited to:
- a right to engage in an exclusive fishery under the conditions imposed by the licence, and the decision-making over fishing activities authorized by a licence;
- a proprietary right to the fish caught under the licence and the decision-making over benefits resulting from their catch and
- privileges granted through policy, such as the ability to make requests for substitute operators, licence renewal, licence re-issuance or quota transfers.
“Under the amended regulations, the licence holder must personally retain and exercise the rights and privileges conferred under the licence, and cannot transfer them to any third party, unless such transfer is authorized under the regulations.”
Given the importance of an improved and strengthened PIIFCAF to inshore fishermen throughout Atlantic Canada, the union representing fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador put the issue to the three parties vying to form the next government.
The FFAW-Unifor asked the following questions to the three leaders:
“Will your government enact regulations that explicitly prohibit licensed processing companies from entering into agreements to control inshore fish harvesting licenses? Further, will your government support punitive sanctions, such as the removal of processing licenses and/or large fines for those processing companies found to be in violation of these new regulations?”
Here are the responses the union received back:
“Our government supports the federal government’s efforts to strengthen the Policy on Preserving the Independence of the Inshore Fleet in Canada’s Atlantic Fisheries. This policy protects the independence of the inshore fleet and provides greater protection to harvester owner-operators and further, should also help young people enter the fishing industry. Our government also firmly believes in hearing from those directly involved in harvesting and will continue to welcome input from harvesters and plant workers as we help guide the fishery into the future. We have committed to conducting industry consultations as part of a study on foreign investment in the fishery, which will provide an opportunity for dialogue on the new federal regulations.”
“We will enact laws prohibiting processing companies from having controlling agreements in the inshore fishery and introduce strict penalties and fines for companies violating those rules. Let’s make sure those new opportunities in groundfish are available to support thousands of workers in coastal communities for many years to come.”
“It is important to protect small-boat owner-operator harvesters. The FFAW says processor control over inshore fishing licenses remains the biggest threat to the sustainability of the inshore fishery and coastal communities. Let’s gather around a table, hear all the arguments pro and con and find a way to protect the interests of our small-boat owner-operator harvesters. If this is a reasonable path forward, then let’s get it done.”
So, does anything stand out for you here? Any approach that grabs you about how a new N.L. government will be dealing with the all-important PIIFCAF file? Maybe, maybe not.
It seems the Liberals want to further consult, while the Tories want to sit around a table and have a yarn. The NDP actually had the strongest language, but of course that party will not be forming the next N.L. government, so they afford to make such strong platitudes.
From a provincial standpoint, does it seem that PIIFCAF will be in good hands? It is hard to say right now. But there are many variables to factor in at this point, including the possibility of another minority government and a provincial Tory government dealing with a Liberal federal government in Ottawa. And last but not least, there is always the possibility the outcome of the election will be ruled unconstitutional and will end up in the courts and we will be right back to where we started. Stay tuned.