Special to the Northern Pen
With the recent announcement of a second crab plant closure in her district, Cartwright - L’Anse au Clair MHA Yvonne Jones is encouraging people to attend public forums in L’anse au Loup and Blanc Sablon this weekend hosted by Federal fisheries critic MP Lawrence MacAulay.
“Within the last two weeks, I have had two crab plants close in my district in St. Lewis and Black Tickle partly due to quota cuts and declining processing capacity. It is important that Mr. MacAulay hears directly from the fisherpeople the importance of protecting the crab and shrimp stocks to ensure the sustainability of the industry,” Ms. Jones says.
Despite the closures, Ms. Jones says, the fishery continues to be an important industry for people throughout her district.
Chester Davis, a fisherman from L’anse au Loup says the fishery could be doing much better, however, he says, harvesters face many challenges because of restrictions put in place by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
Mr. Davis spoke to the Northern Pen by telephone on Wednesday from his vessel where he and his crew were fishing crab out of Cow Head.
Fishers in the area are being penalized by the federal government because there is too much fish in their waters, he says.
Mr. Davis says changes in the turbot fishery, which once ran from April until late fall, are also hurting the industry.
“You wouldn’t stop at all during that time and the quota wouldn’t be taken. But with the sharing arrangements now in place with DFO, Newfoundlanders got screwed on it. Right now we’re looking at a turbot fishery for a maximum of three days.”
In a story published in the Northern Pen on Feb. 15, 2011, reporter Emma Graney wrote that the quota reconciliation program was announced by DFO in 2010 as a means to control the groundfish fishery. When a quota is exceeded one year, there is a pound-for-pound clawback of those fish the next year, she wrote.
Conway Caines of Port Saunders told Ms. Graney that such quota reconciliation would cause a domino effect throughout the province.
“When you take the quota like that, the plants are going to have no product and they’re going to start suffering now, too,” he said.
“Why did we work so hard to rebuild the stocks when, now the fish are all come back, we’re not allowed to have them? It’s just not right,” Mr. Caines added.
Mr. Davis echoes Mr. Caines’ concerns. Cutting the quota isn’t the answer, he says.
“The halibut fishery has exploded so much that scientists can’t even put it on their charts. And here we are this year looking at a maximum of 24-hours (fishery).”
Mr. Davis admits there are more people fishing halibut than a decade ago. However, he said, that’s because the fish are so plentiful.
Cod is also king in the area, Mr. Davis said. The stocks are better than they have been in years, he says.
“This region on the West Coast and in the Gulf is probably one of the poorest regions in the fishery today. But, if we were allowed to fish those species, instead of having all those restrictions put on us, we’d be able to make a perfect living at the fishery today,” Mr. Davis says.
During a telephone interview on Wednesday, Mr. MacAulay said one of the issues that fishers will likely want to discuss is the importance of DFO’s Fleet Separation and Owner Operator policies.
If the federal government eliminates these policies as part of its plan to modernize the fishery, he says, there will be a massive loss of employment and income for fishers and crewmembers.
Changes to the policies would destroy Atlantic Canada, Mr. MacAulay says, and could be the biggest economic disaster to hit the area since the collapse of the cod fishery.
Mr. MacAulay estimates that there are about 11,000 fishers in Atlantic Canada and coastal Quebec. These fishers hire over 20,000 people to work with them. Thousands more jobs will be indirectly affected by changes to the policies, he says.
“Fleet separation means that if you’re a processor you do not do the fishing. … If these regulations are changed, the corporate sector could buy up the licenses,” said Mr. MacAulay.
Other jurisdictions have gone forward with similar fisheries reforms, he said, and the result has been the same across the board.
“Fishing licenses and quota end up centralized in the hands of a few wealthy individuals or companies in urban centres, employment significantly decreases, remaining fishers see a large drop in income, and fisheries-dependent communities become marginalized while the economic benefits of the fishery flow to cities and corporations rather than fishers and rural communities.”
The FFAW/CAW is in the same boat as Mr. MacAulay on how crucial it is to leave the policies in place.
The union is also worried that a change would allow big, possibly foreign companies, to enter and dominate the inshore fishery.
“There’s a concerted effort to open the door to outright ownership of licenses by fish processors, or by anybody else for that matter. They (DFO) want to actually uncouple the license from the fishing activity. The right to fish should be associated with the people who catch the fish,” FFAW/CAW president Earle McCurdy noted in a release on March 13.
Ms. Jones agrees that there is a great deal of concern about the possibility of DFO removing the Fleet Separation and Owner Operator polices from their management policy. Mr. MacAulay needs to hear these and other concerns, she says.
As well, Ms. Jones says, the forums will be an ideal opportunity to tell the MP about success stories such as the Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company (LFUSC).
With crab plants located in Cartwright and Mary’s Harbour, a shrimp plant in Charlottetown and a multi-species plant in L’Anse au Loup, Ms. Jones says the LFUSC has provided employment opportunities to processors and harvesters for years.
“The company is a model of success and sustainability for the fishing industry and I would encourage Mr. MacAulay to meet with the company during his visit to the Labrador Straits.”
The public forum takes from 7-9 pm at the Community Hall in Blanc Sablon on Friday and from 2-4 pm at the Lawrence D. O’Brien Town Centre in L’anse au Loup on Saturday.
There will also be a meet-and-greet at the Lawrence D. O’Brien Town Centre starting at 7 pm on Saturday.
For more information on the forums email email@example.com or call 613-995-9325.