The suburbs to the shores, how do we fix what's broken?
On Wednesday, Feb 22st, I held a public meeting at the Battery Hotel in St. John’s. The following is my opening statement.
Welcome to Making Waves: A discussion about the future of the Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery.
Welcome to the Battery and the Riverhead Room.
I chose the Riverhead Room for tonight`s public meeting because of sentimental value — I grew up in Riverhead, Hr. Grace.
And the name of my street in Riverhead was Fisherman`s Road, of all places.
Fisherman`s Road, the road sign, is also the central image on my blog, for those who were wondering why I went with Fisherman`s Road.
I have never forgotten where I come from.
None of us should ever forget where we come from.
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are a people of the sea.
This place was settled because of fish, and its fish that will likely keep us here long after the oil and gas are but a memory.
But the fishery is broken — even the federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans admits it — he`s taken to using the word BROKEN in recent times.
Question is, how do we fix the broken fishery?
It`s a question not just for fishermen and plant workers (what few fishermen and plant workers we have left, who haven`t moved to Alberta or are retired), it`s a question for all of us to ask ourselves.
Baymen and Townies, from the suburbs to the shores, from Mount Pearl to Ming`s Bite.
How do we fix the broken fishery?
As the saying goes, Newfoundland and Labrador cannot exist on St. John`s/Mount Pearl/CBS alone.
We can’t survive on the Northeast Avalon alone.
When I ran for election last year I vowed that if I was elected I would push Ottawa to hold an inquiry into the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries.
When I was elected in May I went to Ottawa and did just that — I pushed the federal government for an inquiry.
I introduced a private member`s bill — Bill C 308, the Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding Act.
As I said in the House of Commons at the time, “We must rebuild.”
We must rebuild what was once one of the world's greatest protein resources — the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
We must rebuild what has been lost to us.
I also posed a question in the Commons: Why has the moratorium stretched almost 20 years when John Crosbie said, in 1992, that it would last only 2 years?
To quote Newfoundlander Rex Murphy from a National Post column last fall:
“Newfoundland is in silent crisis. Increasingly, St. John’s highly concentrated economy resembles a sort of miniature Hong Kong amidst an increasingly deserted province. Out-migration is stealing a whole generation of Newfoundlanders. The outports are becoming just places ‘where the parents live,’ and the larger centres outside St. John’s have become dominated by old-age homes.”
To quote another Newfoundlander, Zita Cobb of Fogo Island, who is renowned as an entrepreneur and a visionary and who’s behind one of the largest projects every attempted to preserve even a small portion of rural Newfoundland.
She says, “If something isn't done now, we are going to be disconnected from our sense of community and our sense of past. The most tragic thing that could happen and it is happening now, is for a son not to understand his father's life.”
This is me speaking now: Our Newfoundland and Labrador culture, a culture steeped in the fishery, is slowly dying.
So, I introduced my private member`s bill last fall.
Of course, as soon as I announced it the federal government said an inquiry wasn`t going to happen.
In December, there was a vote in the House of Commons, the last vote before the Christmas break, and my private member`s bill was defeated.
All New Democrat, Liberal, Bloc and the lone Green MP voted for my bill.
And the entire Conservative caucus voted against it.
That battle was lost; certainly not the war.
Just before Christmas, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development — an officer of the House of Commons who reports directly to the federal Auditor General — released a study of managing fisheries for sustainability.
One section was entitled, What questions should parliamentarians ask?
That peaked my interest – I`m a parliamentarian afterall?
The question parliamentarians were challenged to ask, and this is straight from the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, is this:
What past audits and studies have been done of these fisheries by Parliament, by the Office of the Auditor General, or by the Departmental Internal Audit Groups? Have the problems identified in those reports been addressed successfully?
Those are some very good questions.
One of the key criticisms of my call for an inquiry is why do we need yet ANOTHER report when there have been dozens of reports and studies into the fisheries carried out over the years.
Why would we need another one?
That’s a good question, too.
Over the past two months my office stepped up to the challenge of determining whether fisheries problems identified in various reports by the Office of the Auditor General were addressed successfully.
But my office took it a step further — we not only reviewed the fisheries reports identified by the Auditor General’s Office over the past almost 20 years.
We also reviewed the fisheries reports — specific to the East Coast — that have been produced by the Senate, and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
Between the AG’s office, the Senate and the House of Commons 21 fisheries reports — pertaining to the East Coast of Canada — have been produced in roughly 20 years.
Those 21 reports contained a grand total of 168 recommendations.
We have broken out 5 of the larger recommendations that were made and — as far as we can tell — never followed through on.
- 1) Fisheries and Oceans should renew its efforts to have the government clarify fisheries objectives in legislation and develop a national fisheries policy framework. (1997 AG Report, Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Sustainable Fisheries Framework: Atlantic Groundfish.)
- 2) Fisheries and Oceans Canada should clearly articulate its position in terms of priorities, process and timeframes to set sustainable conservation targets for straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. (2004 AG Report: International Environmental agreements.)
- 3) That the Department of Fisheries and Oceans prepare an annual State of the Oceans Report to document progress on the implementation of the Oceans Act. The Oceans Act was implemented in 1996 and it governs our oceans policy. (Report on the Oceans Act, House of Commons Standing Committee, October 2001).
- 4) The Department of Fisheries and Oceans properly fund scientific research and that results be made available both to fishermen and the public as soon as they are available. (Atlantic Fisheries Issues: May 2003, Report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
- 5) The Government of Canada should, as an immediate priority, act to replace the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) with a new regional fisheries management organization that incorporates the modern approaches to, and principles of, sustainable ecosystem management contained in United Nations Fisheries Agreement and the array of other international agreement, codes, and declarations that have merged in recent years. (Staddling Fish Stocks in the Northwest Atlantic, A Report of the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, June 2003.)
Beyond those 5 recommendations, there have been calls for years and several attempts to rewrite and modernize the federal Fisheries Act.
The last attempt was in 2007, which failed.
And so we have an archaic fisheries act.
This country also has a Fisheries and Oceans minister with complete control — with little to no accountability.
Scientific information is almost never presented raw to the public.
I can go on and on.
Another question: how much have these federal government reports cost Canadian Taxpayers?
We don’t have a total dollar figure.
From our research we do know that two chapters of the 1997 Auditor General report dealing with Sustainable Fisheries Framework cost $1.18 million.
So it’s fair to say that these 21 reports from the AG, the Senate and the House of Commons cost 10s of millions of dollars.
Much of which was wasted because some of the key recommendations were never followed through on.
The minister has complete control to do whatever he or she wishes.
Over the course of our research my office came across a 1996 report by three independent fisheries scientists.
The report was titled: Is Scientific Inquiry Incompatible with Government Information Control?
The short answer was yes — scientific inquiry is not compatible government information control ...
And we’re all heard plenty, even in recent weeks, about the muzzling of scientists.
Scientists are not allowed to speak, it’s fair to say — there are stories continuously in the news.
That 1996 independent report stated that when the government controls the scientific research the science is not effective.
Let me quote the report:
“The existing framework of the government sponsored science needs to be replaced. It has failed to ensure viable fish resources and thereby sustain the fishing people and fishing communities upon which successful fisheries management depends. The economic and societal cost of this failure to Canada has been enormous.”
The report recommended that the formation of a politically independent organization of fisheries scientists is a timely idea that merits immediate, serious and open debate.
My office contacted some of the scientists involved with putting that 16-year-old report together, and the scientists stand by their findings.
They believe that ALL scientific information should be made public before its tainted by politics.
One of the lead writers of that 1996 report was Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings, a professor of Marine Biology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.
Hutchings also recently chair a 10-member Royal Society of Canada panel that concluded that Canada has not adopted science-based targets for protecting fisheries.
Instead, Canada favours having successive federal Fisheries Ministers make short-term “czar-like” decisions.
Nearly 20 years after the moratorium and Canada still does not have a recovery plan for northern cod.
How is that possible?
It’s the reality.
According to Hutchings, target dates have helped Norwegians to rebuild the Barents Sea stock.
In the late 1980s, the Barents Sea cod stock was in dire straits.
Today, the Norwegian cod stock is the largest in the world, and the Norwegians are catching more cod in a sustainable fashion off their coast than almost ever before.
Cabot Martin once predicted that a healthy northern cod stock could produce annual harvests of 400,000 tonnes.
How much has Newfoundland and Labrador lost over the past 20 years as the result of the absence of a northern cod fishery?
How much will Newfoundland and Labrador continue to lose heading into the future?
400,000 tonnes a year — an incredible amount.
Fisheries management in Canada is not taking place in a transparent manner.
That’s a key word — transparent — there is nothing transparent about Canadian fisheries management.
Nothing, and no long-term recovery plan.
Huthings says that one of the key problems in the fishery is that, at the end of the day, in this country there are little or no political costs to making bad fisheries decisions.
Let’s review where we are today ...
Everyone’s familiar with the proposal by Ocean Choice International to ship unprocessed fish to Asia, and how that proposal was rejected by the provincial government.
We have the ongoing Canada/EU free trade talks and the big question mark about how they will impact the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.
We have a Department of Fisheries and Oceans that has been cut to the bone — and now faces amputations.
There’s no money for research — moral is shot.
DFO seems to be redirecting funds from the wild fishery to aquaculture or fish farming.
DFO seems to have almost given up on the wild fishery.
We’ve all heard about the state of search and rescue.
Then there’s seals — and the impact they’re having on the recovery of groundfish stocks.
The Senate is currently looking at a potential cull of grey seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Keep in mind that the 1986 Royal Commission on Sealing in Canada recommended a grey seal cull — and we’re still studying it.
But then the 1986 Royal Commission on sealing also called for more science to study the relationship between seals and the ocean ecosystem.
We know seals eat fish — but how many? Where are the details?
DFO hasn’t provided any.
We need more science — not less.
And if we have a seal cull, where do we sell the Canadian seal products?
The EU has banned seal products.
So has Russia.
The Prime Minister still hasn’t said what came out of his recent trip to China re seal markets.
We’re still waiting to hear what the Conservative government intends to do about the Russian ban.
So here we are today — with a broken fishery, with a fishery in perpetual crisis.
And the sealing industry quietly fading into oblivion.
What do we do about it?
Just so everyone knows — Keith Ashfield, the minister of Fisheries and Oceans for Canada, was invited to tonight’s discussion.
As was Peter Penashue, Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative in the federal cabinet.
Neither responded to my written invitation.
So I put the question to the floor: How do we make waves?
How do we make change?
If we do things the way we’ve always done them, we get the same result?
How do we make waves?