PM Should Honour his Father’s Fish Promise

A provincial fishery advocacy group, the Fishery Community Alliance (FCA), is calling upon Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to honour a commitment made by his father in 1971, as a way to help protect and rebuild depleted fish stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador that belong to the Canadian people.

I was part of a team of fishery advocates from 14 groups, the Save Our Fishery Association (SOFA), which undertook a mission to Ottawa in October 1971, to highlight the politically motivated decisions which led to the dire decline in fish stocks. SOFA first met with several cabinet ministers, including N.L.’s representative in the Canadian Government, Don Jamieson.

These ministers were so alarmed by the statistics we brought, they arranged for us to appear before Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau the following day to brief him.

Following SOFA’s meeting, the Prime Minister was so concerned with the documented evidence over the resource decline and the overfishing by foreigners, that his government sent a telex to Premier Joey Smallwood committing to extending jurisdiction over the total continental shelf. The 200-mile limit was eventually established in 1977, leaving the nose and tail of the Grand Banks outside Canada’s control.

Clearly, the Prime Minister at the time reneged on this most important promise and had he not, we would be in the same fishing league as Iceland and Norway with thriving fishing industries.

Newfoundland’s fish stocks started to decline in the early 1970s, until they were nearly depleted by foreign fishing countries’ unrestricted efforts, forcing an abrupt closure of fish stocks off Canada’s east coast in 1992.

The current Prime Minister and his government need to understand that our fishery is a common property resource, owned by the people and in 1949, Canada agreed to manage it on a sustainable basis and a promise broken by his father in 1971 is one of the critical factors which led to the current state of our fishery collapse.

Any fish rebuilding plan — as now obligated by the amended Fisheries Act — cannot work without Canada taking control of the nose and tail of the Grand Banks, where foreign overfishing still takes place.

Newfoundland and Labrador elevated Canada from 14th to 6th place in the world as a fish-exporting nation in 1949 and today, we have not only lost our renewable fish resource and all the potential it could have brought us to keep our province and communities thriving; but Canada has also lost an extraordinary food security source.

The Prime Minister’s reputation as a world leader on environmental issues should also compel him to do the right thing when it comes to helping restore and rebuild the fish resource.

Just as importantly, a world food resource is threatened permanently and by not acting, his government is facilitating its demise, as well the elimination of an important piece of Canada’s cultural landscape, namely, Newfoundland and Labrador. Wrongs have been done to our province regarding the fishery, and we are looking for justice and action to re-establish ourselves as a significant player in the world fisheries.


Gus Etchegary
St. John’s, N.L.


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