A fishery debate was held earlier this week at St. Augustine’s Church in St. John’s. Three federal candidates — myself, Liberal Gerry Byrne, and Conservative Fabian Manning — tackled the topic of how to rebuild the broken fishery. Each candidate was asked six questions, which are listed below, along with my answers. Photo by Gavin Simms/theindependent.ca
1) What is the top priority of your party with respect to the fishery, and how do you propose to act upon it?
The top priority of the New Democrats — and one of my top priorities as MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl — will be to rebuild the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries.
The key word being rebuild — rebuild what’s been broken, because our fisheries are broken.
Most of the conversation in recent months — especially with the Memorandum of Understanding and the attempt by the province and industry to restructure the industry — has been on rationalization.
Cutting the fishing industry to fit the cloth — the cloth, in this case, being the amount of fish available.
Which is less and less.
Some sort of rationalization needs to happen — people agree with that.
I had a meeting last week with a group of Petty Harbour fisherman.
They have their own plan for rationalization — I’m sure you’ll hear about in the coming weeks.
It’s an outside-the-box idea on how to reduce numbers, a plan involving money from the province, the feds, and fishermen themselves.
We need more outside-the-box ideas.
But what the fishermen of Petty Harbour also acknowledged is the need to rebuild.
Auditor General John Noseworthy said recently that Newfoundland and Labrador has come to rely too heavily on oil revenues, describing government spending levels as “incredible.”
We have to diversify the economy, we have to get our act together now in preparation for life after oil.
We’re supposed to run out of oil — not fish.
A few weeks ago I met fisherman Paul Critch, whose 60-foot boat was tied up at Prosser’s Rock boat basin in St. John’s harbour.
Paul said he named his boat the Chelsea and Emily, after his two daughters.
Paul is a 5th generation fisherman.
Upon the birth of his second daughter, Paul said his father said “Thank God.”
“Thank God” it’s not a boy.
A grandson would have to go into the fishery.
And who wants that.
This is what we’ve come to.
We have hit rock bottom.
The time to rebuild is now.
Priority 1 — rebuild.
Newfoundland and Labrador is in desperate need of hope.
Hope for the fishery.
Hope for the future.
2. Rebuilding the fish stocks: The northern cod stock and other groundfish fisheries have been under a moratorium since 1992. Fishery science capability has been seriously reduced since the moratorium. What steps would your party take to restore the required science capability necessary to support groundfish rebuilding and conservation?
First things first — let me read you a quote from the 2007 book, Cod, The Ecological History of the North Atlantic Fisheries, by Memorial University fish scientist George Rose.
QUOTE: “Since the fisheries began, about 100 million tonnes of cod have been taken from the waters of Newfoundland and Labrador. If this amount of fish were sold at today’s prices in St. John’s, it would be worth some $650 billion — yet only paltry amounts have been reinvested into fisheries research or improving cod products and markets.”
Let me repeat, only paltry amounts have been reinvested into fisheries research or improving cod products and markets.
The first thing that needs to be done is a full assessment of the scientific capability of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Fishermen don’t have any faith in DFO science — scientists don’t have much faith in DFO either.
I’ve covered the fisheries as a Newfoundland and Labrador journalist since 1991 — the year before the northern cod moratorium.
In the years since the moratorium I’ve heard stories, we’ve all heard stories.
I’ve written many stories — about cutbacks to science.
At the very time when science capability should have been increased — it’s been decreased.
There have been stories about scientists who’ve retired and haven’t been replaced.
Stories about DFO research vessels tied to the wharf for months on end — because there’s no money for fuel.
Stories about scientific assessments that aren’t being carried out because there’s no money in the budget to carry them out.
The New Democrats have decried the de-emphasis on fisheries by the Harper government.
Which plans to cut capital funding to DFO by $100 million.
And a $44-million reduction in program spending in this year’s budget and a planned
spending cut in the next 3 years of a further $85 million due to strategic review.
Tell me that won’t lead to a further gutting of DFO science branch.
The science branch of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans must be rebuilt — not further neglected.
There have been other stories in the almost two decades since the fisheries were first closed about scientists being muzzled.
In 1997, three respected university scientists — Drs. Jeffrey Hutchings, Carl Walters and Richard Haedrich — wrote a paper entitled, Is scientific inquiry incompatible with government information control?
Science must be independent of politics.
Almost 20 years after the groundfish fisheries were closed and we need a rebuilding plan.
We don’t have one.
An affront to every Newfoundlander and Labradorian.
3. Foreign overfishing: What is your party's position on the control of foreign overfishing outside the 200-mile limit? Should Canada take unilateral action to avoid further destruction of trans-boundary stocks and, if so, what form should such action take? Extension of jurisdiction? Custodial management?
Let me quote from Michael Harris’ 1999 book, Lament for an Ocean.
“The beginning of the end of the northern cod arrived in 1954 in the form of the British ship, the Fairtry. The three million dollar vessel was the first factory-freezer trawler in the world. These huge stern trawlers, complete with on-board processing plants, enabled their owners to triple their cod catch. Even with annual operating costs of $4.5 million apiece, their enormous processing capacity — up to 600 tonnes of fish a day — made them floating gold mines.”
The fishing effort on the Grand Banks — the foreign effort in particular — has been incredible.
The Grand Banks of Newfoundland have been pulverized.
And the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, which oversees the fishery outside the 200-mile-limit, does not work.
It has stood by while stocks were pulverized.
NAFO does not work in terms of setting quotas or enforcing quotas.
Countries that don’t like quotas can unilaterally set their own using the objection procedure.
As for foreign vessels that are cited for illegal fishing on the Grand Banks, try filing an access to information request to learn what penalties were imposed on that foreign vessel.
You will not get any information because successive Conservative and Liberal governments will not release it
Ottawa will not release the information because it may negatively impact international relations.
Forget Newfoundland and Labrador relations — release of such information may impact international relations.
That must change — NAFO does NOT work.
Some people may say that the fact there aren’t foreign trawlers fishing today is evidence that NAFO is working.
That’s a lie.
The amount of fish available on the Grand Banks is pitiful compared to what it once was.
If the amount of fish available to catch on the Grand Banks today was what it was 40 years ago the foreign effort would be the same.
To quote Luis Atienza, a former Spanish Fisheries Minister: “One can hardly be accused of breaking a non-existent rule.”
The long-term objective must be to establish custodial management on the continental shelf outside 200 miles.
In order to achieve custodial management, Canada must demonstrate its ability to manage not only the area outside 200 miles, but the vast fishing zones inside the limit, including the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Scotian Shelf.
To convince Canadians and foreigners we can manage our fisheries, the first and most important step is to restore the science.
I’ll tell you something else: We should all be concerned about the impact on fish stocks of Canada/EU free trade talks.
The Council of Canadians has said it could have an even greater negative impact on East Coast fish stocks — if that’s even possible.
Canada-EU free-trade talks is the ghost issue of the 2011 federal election.
4. Privatization of the public resource: There has been a continuous movement toward privatization of fish quotas, which have been historically publicly owned resources. What is your party's position on ownership of the fishery and on efforts to privatize the resource by creating individual transferable quotas (ITQs)?
The fish off our shores have always been a common property resource — owned by everyone and owned by no one.
I believe it should essentially stay that way.
The fishery must be managed in such a way that the stocks can sustain themselves so that the stocks aren’t fished out.
Like they are now — the North Atlantic, when it comes to the commercial groundfish fishery, has been practically fished out.
I see Individual Transferable Quotas as having merit — especially for community ownership — which is the direction I think we should head towards.
Communities that are adjacent to the resource must be given priority to a rebuilt resource.
Communities and outports in rural Newfoundland and Labrador were built on the fishery and are dying without it — dying without it.
There’s a concern with ITQs in that they can be taken over by private individuals.
And we’re seeing examples of that today — in particular with offshore shrimp quotas.
Before ITQs are implemented there should be a careful study to ensure that Individual Transferable Quotas don’t drift into private ownership.
When a fisherman is given a quota that quota must be enough so that fishermen can sustain their enterprises — to make a decent living.
What can’t be allowed to happen is that quotas become transferable to a point where they can drift into the hands of processors or foreigners.
We must have regulatory measures to prevent that.
I hear a lot of fishermen talking about the return of a fisheries loan board, so that fishermen don’t have to turn to processors for loans to support their enterprises.
Which leads to processors controlling fishermen.
That doesn’t work.
It has never worked, and it never will work.
What also concerns me are Canada-EU free trade talks.
The Council of Canadians has warned that those trade talks could have a negative impact on East Coast fish stocks.
We’ve got to make sure that our fishery isn’t traded off to foreign interests.
A 1901 editorial in the St. John’s Trade Review predicted that if Newfoundland did not rethink her fishing effort “European fishermen will come over and carry off our fish from under our nose.”
That’s as true today as it was 110 years ago.
That cannot be allowed to happen.
As Danny Williams said, we must become masters of our destiny.
We must become masters of our own fishing destiny.
5. Shared Management: Fishery management has been placed, constitutionally, into the hands of the federal government. What role should communities play in fishery management? What is your party's position on the creation of a jointly appointed Canada/Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries management authority that might operate through a quasi-judicial board?
John Crosbie once said the “greatest failure” of Confederation is the failure of the country to initiate a fair energy policy.
I say Crosbie was right, but the lack of a fair energy policy was one of two greatest failures of Confederation.
The second greatest failure is the fishery — the destruction of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
The Grand Banks have been decimated under the watch of a long line of Liberal and Tory governments in Ottawa.
The fisheries have been managed to annihilation, which just so happens to be the name of a book released last year by Newfoundlander Dean Bavington.
Managed Annihilation, A history of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse.
As the title indicates, Managed Annihilation contends northern cod were administered into virtual extinction.
One guess who did the administering?
The fishery cannot be micromanaged from Ottawa — 2,000 miles from the salt sea.
It is also my opinion that communities should not be involved in management.
That would also lead to micromanagement.
The fishery should be seen and managed from a big-picture perspective — with input, of course, from all sectors, from all interest groups, including communities.
As for the NDP position on the creation of a jointly appointed Canada/Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries management authority that might operate through a quasi-judicial board.
I see that as a good thing. I see that as the way to go. I see that as the future of the fishery.
Shared management is the way to go, as the first step.
Shared management between Newfoundland and Labrador and the Government of Canada.
Newfoundland and Labrador — moreso than other Atlantic provinces — would need shared management because of the international overtones with our fishery.
There’s so much foreign activity off our doorstep, off our stage (what ones that are left) that you don’t see with Nova Scotia, or New Brunswick, or PEI.
Therefore, it’s much more important for us to have shared management.
6. Judicial Inquiry: The 1992 fishery moratorium remains in effect since 1992 without an inquiry into the cause of the collapse of the groundfish fishery or its failure to recover. The government of Canada, on the other hand, appointed a judicial inquiry into the collapse of the British Columbia salmon stocks. Should there be a judicial inquiry and what should be the focus and purpose of such an inquiry into the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery?
Brian Tobin once said, “There’s no fish, so I can afford to do the right thing.”
Tobin made that statement years ago, and while he made a splash on the world stage with the arrest of the Spanish fishing trawler Estai, he didn’t go far enough.
Not nearly far enough.
When I was asked by the federal New Democrats to run again in this election I asked only one question: Will the NDP support an inquiry into the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries?
The NDP said yes.
Then I said yes.
The fishery must be rebuilt.
But we can’t rebuild without all the facts: on science, enforcement, quotas and — most importantly — management.
The New Democrats support a judicial inquiry as the way to establish a baseline of information so we can start making decisions and moving forward.
Let me quote my leader Jack Layton: “We need to understand why, after 20 years of a moratorium, there has been no significant recovery of the once mighty cod stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador.”
That’s a damn good question: Why has there been no recovery?
To further quote Jack Layton: “A judicial inquiry into this question will help chart the path forward to ensure that a recovery and rebuilding plan is in place for the future of the fishery."
There’s that word again — rebuild.
We’ve been warned that the provincial government has come to rely too heavily on oil and gas revenues.
We’ve got to get our house in order and ensure we have sustainable fisheries to maintain a viable economy in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
Newfoundland and Labrador cannot survive on St. John’s alone.
Let me quote again from George Rose:
“If the Grand Banks fisheries have been an icon for abuse and mismanagement, they can become an icon for restoration and rebuilding. Whichever path is taken, the fishery will write the future of Newfoundland and Labrador as it has written its history.”