Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dangers ahead in federal fisheries plan

The following letter to the editor is published in today's Saturday Telegram (March 17th). The above shot by Paul Daly was taken during the 2008 federal election with fisherman Sam Lee of Petty Harour.

The elimination of the owner-operator and fleet-separation policies — “sacred pillars” of the East Coast fishery that the Conservative government is said to be considering removing — would trigger the end of the traditional inshore fishery.

There would be fewer fishermen, making less money, translating into less economic return for already hurting outports.

It’s thought that the Harper government intends to replace the fleet separation and owner-operator policies with a system of individual transferable quotas (ITQS), which have been in place in British Columbia’s halibut fishery since the early 1990s.

A 2009 B.C. study — The Elephant in the Room: The Hidden Costs of Leasing Individual Transferable Fishing Quotas — concluded that ITQs limit efficiency, stifle innovation and cause financial hardship for skippers and crews.

By definition, most ITQ systems allow permits to be leased or sold.

In B.C., the ITQ system led to fleet consolidation — roughly 750 boats were reduced to fewer than 100.

But that didn’t mean more money for fishermen and crews left on the water.

As of 2006, 79 per cent of B.C.’s total allowable catch for halibut was leased out.

Most active fishermen pay massive resource rent to access quota, either from the fishermen who were originally granted an ITQ or from companies who bought up quota over the years.

Meaning fishermen earn “starvation wages,” as they’ve been described, because of the money they’re forced to pay to so-called “slipper skippers” or big companies/fish processors for the lease of the quota.

The value of B.C.’s halibut fishery rose by 25 per cent between 1990 and 2007, but the proportion of that increase retained by fishing crews dropped by 73 per cent.

An ITQ system would result in fishermen earning less, and the outports becoming even poorer. 

In New Zealand, which also has an ITQ system, many of the local fishermen have been squeezed out of the industry by cheap foreign vessels and crews.

The ITQ system allows companies to buy control over the fisheries and force smaller operations out of the industry. The Conservative government’s version of “modernizing” the fishery would destroy the best part of today’s industry — independence — and revert us back to the merchant days.

That’s not where Newfoundland and Labrador should be headed.

Groundfish stocks need to be restored with a rebuilding plan and recovery targets. The management system — federally, provincially, and internationally — needs to be overhauled. 

The ownership of quotas and the benefits from actual fishing must be revealed to the public.

Faith needs to be restored in fisheries science, and there should be a single enforcement regime for the entire continental shelf.

Canada has lost its reputation as a steward of the sea, but it’s not too late to get it back.

At stake are the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and a way of life that has carved us as a people.


Gavin Will said...

Well put. Strengthening the owner-operator fleet is required, along with assisting community fish plants in modernizing their facilities. Governments, both federal and provincial, have abdicated their responsibilities in favour of fish merchants. Doesn't that sound familiar?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ryan for you devotion to the fishery of the atlantic provinces.