Most people have the impression and understandably so, that it is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that controls who gets to go commercial fishing in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Actually, it is the Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board (PFHCB) — with rules enacted in legislation by the provincial government.
In that regard, I would like to use the medium of your magazine to suggest to the Newfoundland and Labrador Minister of Fisheries to take a look at current legislation in light of a very changed environment in our fishery and fishing communities.
I would question how some fishers can have multiple boats and enterprises, while an elderly fisher in some little fishing village is not allowed to pass along an enterprise to his son or daughter unless they fulfill the extensive and lengthy requirements of the PFHCB, which does not adequately recognize previous experience in the fishing industry.
Many young people grew up in the fishing boats, hauling lobster pots, cod traps, gill nets and crab fishing and then moved away after the moratorium.
Now if the old skipper in his 70s wants to give his son or daughter with such experience the opportunity to come home and take over the family business that he has spent a lifetime building up, the son or daughter has to start off as if they grew up on the south side of Chicago. They have to spend at least five more years fishing with the old skipper (if he lives that long or stays healthy enough to do so) which is a major impediment in pursuing that dream.
As a result, the only choice the old skipper has is to sell his enterprise, likely to some offshore fisher who probably has multiple boats and enterprises already with crews manning them, while the concentrations of enterprises and wealth spells doom for hundreds of small fishing villages where there is hardly a fisher left now.
In a few years there will be miles of coastline and dying fishing communities with zero fishers left because of those policies agreed to by the provincial government. This point is not fully recognized or understood by our elected officials and cannot be overemphasized.
Few people realize that at this point in history, DFO has zero to do with who gets into the fishery. That is controlled by an unelected group at the PFHCB, using a set of rules that was established over two decades ago to get rid of the so-called “moonlighters” in the fishery.
Unfortunately, when the pendulum swings, it never stops in the middle.
I cannot understand the logic of the owner-operator, when many enterprises and vessels are now operated not by the owner, but by people working for and under the direction of the owner.
I am not advocating doing away with the PFHCB or the concept of professional fishers, but certainly people who can prove previous substantial fishing experience and having navigation courses, MEDs, etc… should be recognized as capable of carrying on the family tradition and not having to suffer the insult or inconvenience of having to start off again as an apprentice.
I am not disrespecting the PFHCB, but merely advocating a rule change that would help keep fishing villages alive and make intergenerational transfers of enterprises reasonable.
Just to be absolutely clear, I am not advocating new enterprises, just a sensible distribution of existing ones.
My hope is to still have a fisher or two left in the village of my youth, still my home port, but right now that seems unlikely.
Does this make sense to anyone?