Real Leadership Needed For N.L. Fisheries Renewal

I was present on three occasions a few years ago when Prime Minister Harper was electioneering and making many commitments regarding our fisheries.

His future Minister of Fisheries, Loyola Hearn, was present. With respect to his commitment regarding extension of jurisdiction, he not only completely reneged but he systematically reduced funding to the N.L. DFO region to such an extent the region’s fishery science capability, an absolute necessity in fishery management, has been reduced to an almost useless level.

The Coast Guard, which was responsible for providing reliable research vessels to carry out surveys over the nearly one million square-kilometre Continental Shelf, was unable to maintain machinery and equipment and had to spend lengthy periods in port and its vessels were very often towed by other vessels to port.

Far too often they were tied up in port due to insufficient fuel supplies. Research vessels were decommissioned and then sold to the private sector. Top-level fishery scientists were reduced in numbers, along with the necessary technical personnel. These senior personnel were muzzled and it never became a public issue.

According to responsible members of the DFO observer program on foreign trawlers, the exercise was ineffective for many reasons and therefore the regulatory and monitoring procedures provided scientists with inaccurate and misleading harvesting data used in their stock assessments.

Under the Terms of Union in 1949, Canada assumed full responsibility for the sustainable management of the groundfish fishery, pelagic and crustacean fisheries on the Grand Banks and adjacent to N.L. It is important to note the migratory fish stocks on the Grand Banks and outside 200 miles with its continuing foreign overfishing is not a concern of the Maritime Provinces or Quebec. They couldn’t care less about the destructive fisheries conducted by NAFO members in those areas 800 miles away.

It’s one of the reasons the Canadian government did not act in a responsible manner to conserve the resource in those areas.

The fact is Canada has failed in its commitment to sustainably manage our fisheries.

I served as a Canadian Commissioner to ICNAF and later NAFO from the early 1970s until 1990 and can demonstrate how, when and where successive federal governments ignored scientific council reports and recommendations made at annual meetings and recorded in official proceedings publications.

These records prove the deterioration of all those groundfish and pelagic stocks began in the 1969-1970 period when fish size and volumes began the downward slope.

In October 1971, a group of concerned fishery participants from N.L. met with the prime minister of the day and several of his cabinet, as well as senior DFO personnel and produced documentation which was fully supported by Dr. Wilfred Templeman, one of Canada’s top scientists.

I have a copy of a Telex sent to Premier Smallwood by DFO Minister Jack Davies, following that 1971 meeting, indicating the serious concern of the Canadian government and that Canada would now take steps to extend jurisdiction to the Slope of the Continental Shelf to protect the resource.

Nothing constructive has been accomplished to date by the Canadian government to rebuild and restore our fisheries since the 1992 moratorium. Neither has our provincial government confronted the the federal government and forced them to meet their obligations to sustainably manage our fisheries.

Our politicians are far more interested in the recreational fisheries or reopening a commercial fishery on the relatively few fish that have managed to survive in our inshore waters, far removed from the destructive foreign fisheries that continue to prevent full recovery of our migrating fish stocks.

Responsible scientists and fisheries experts are convinced that application of a commercial fishery on those inshore stocks will result in decimating what is left within six months or less. The future looks bleak for the survival of our hundreds of fishing communities.

Federal and provincial leadership must understand that fisheries mismanagement has resulted in the loss of 80,000 of our population. The loss of thousands of jobs in harvesting and processing, as well as the multiplier effect in the goods and service sector, has crippled our economy and won’t be restored until the resource is rebuilt. This has lead to the loss of 1,100 year-round jobs from the closure of Marystown plant, the same for Catalina/Bonavista, 500 jobs in Trepassey, the province’s only $8-million secondary processing plant in Burin and the many other harvesting operations and processing plants scattered along the coastline.

Our provincial government allowed John Risely and Highliner Foods of Halifax to take over the only international seafood marketing company in N.L., Fishery Products Inc., which was incorporated by Fishery Products Ltd in 1941.

With the assistance of government and others including some Newfoundlanders, they eventually closed 99 per cent of our groundfish processing plants.

Mainland and some local operators, along with some foreign interests, are well on the road to eliminating the N.L. seafood production as a factor in the international market and reducing the province to the level of an unprocessed fish supplier to their own processing plants.

We are very much in frequent contact with leading fishing interests in Europe, North American and Asia and the depressing truth is that fishing industries in Norway, Iceland, Alaska and Pacific Rim countries are doing exceptionally well — largely because they managed their fishing resources, including Barents Sea cod, haddock and capelin, in a responsible manner. The same is true for the North Pacific where various species are healthy and sustainably managed. Icelandic and Norwegian fisheries are doing quite well and employing thousands of people.

Newfoundland requires top level federal and provincial leadership to lead us out of the cesspool of mismanagement and in some cases corruption. The fact we have gone through eight provincial ministers of fisheries in a decade, none of whom had real knowledge of our fisheries, is a real indication of the lack of attention and importance that’s been placed on this renewable resource.

We need an in-depth judicial inquiry to make our government leaders and the public fully aware of the mess we have on our hands and what is required to rebuild the industry to meet the challenges of the international market place and reach its full potential in contributing to the economy of our province.

Above all, we need real leadership for fisheries renewal. Will we get it when the elections are over in the province and in Canada? That’s the burning question.

Gus Etchegary
Portugal Cove-St. Philips, N.L.
Member of Fishery Community Alliance

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