Friday, May 9, 2014

'It's not a fishery anymore, it's a disgrace.'

  Phil Barnes (right), general manager of the Fogo Island Co-op, gave the above quote this morning during a news conference held in Mount Pearl at the office of MP Ryan Cleary to discuss the impact of cuts to the inshore quota of northern shrimp. To the left is Brad Watkins, a fisherman from Cottlesville near Twillingate. 

 Good morning,

Thank you to the media for coming.

I’m here today with Brad Watkins, a fourth-generation fisherman from Cottlesville, and Phil Barnes, general manager of the Fogo Island Co-op.

Brad will speak in a moment on the direct impact that the cut to the inshore quota of northern shrimp will have on his enterprise, his crew, and his community.

Phil will then speak on the impact the inshore quota cut will have on the Fogo Island Co-op.

I organized this news conference to report on the recent activity of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

In early April, the Conservative government announced significant cuts to this province’s shrimp quotas – cuts that were made disproportionately to the inshore fishery.

An inshore fishery that’s already been pounded by a crab decline and still weak groundfish stocks such as cod that last year sold for as little as 50 cents a pound.

All parties in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery agree that the northern shrimp quota must be reduced to protect the stock.

But it is wrong that inshore fishermen — who have suffered more than their share — must shoulder the burden alone.

It is wrong for fishermen and our plants, wrong for the outports, and wrong for the future of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.

The quota cut must be balanced between the inshore sector and offshore license holders.

As a member of the Fisheries and Oceans committee, I tabled a motion calling for an immediate study of the impact that the last-in, first-out policy will have on the industry, as well as an investigation of why the stock is declining, and the state of Conservative government science.

My motion was passed and witnesses have told the committee that shrimp science within Fisheries and Oceans isn’t cutting it. Simply put — there’s not enough of it and our understanding of shrimp in the context of the North Atlantic ecosystem is non-existent.

I asked DFO witnesses whether an independent assessment of the department’s management and science program would be in order, but — not surprisingly — they said no.

Four days of meetings were set aside for the committee to study northern shrimp — from the impact of climatic change (warmer water) and other factors that caused the decline of the shrimp stock, to the controversial last-in, first-out policy and the impact on our rural economy, today and in he future.

Four days are not near enough.

Four days did not do the problem justice.

The presentation from the provincial all-party committee — including New Democratic Party Leader Lorraine Michael, Liberal Leader Dwight Ball and Progressive Conservative Fisheries Minister Keith Hutchings — to the standing committee in Ottawa was a strong message to the Conservative government.

But it wasn’t enough.

Only one fisherman, and not a single plant worker, was called to testify before the committee.

And Brad here had 5 minutes to present to the committee.

The cut to the inshore shrimp quota will impact the livelihoods of more than 3,000 fishermen and plant workers and 10 shrimp plants and not a single outport mayor or leader was called before the committee to testify.

A New Democratic motion to the standing committee on Fisheries and Oceans will be introduced next week to invite witnesses back to give a proper presentation.

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans should come to Newfoundland and Labrador herself to see first-hand the impact of her decisions.

It is important — it is critical — that the minister hear from those directly affected by the federal government’s last-in, first-out policy, which favours big business license holders over the traditional inshore fisheries.

It is an insult that the minister has refused media interviews.

The ownership of offshore shrimp licenses — foreign and domestic, which was also brought up at the committee’s hearing — should also be further explored, as well as the impacts of regional, community-based quotas and licenses in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Regional-based quotas such as the one to the Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company and a quota on the northern tip of the Northern Peninsula seem to work well for those rural regions of our province.

That allocation model also supports the owner-operator, fleet-separation policy which the Harper Conservatives have tried to eliminate in the past.

New Democrats and others were successful in beating back the Harper agenda on that front.

Could regional based quotas work in other regions of Newfoundland and Labrador?

The question must be asked.

The Fogo Island Co-op had a quota and license for northern shrimp but lost it in recent years as a result of the last-in, first-out policy.

What has been the impact on Fogo and the surrounding region?

That question must also be asked.

New Democrats have always believed that local communities should be the primary beneficiaries of all resource development.

Phil, representing the Fogo Island Co-op, appeared before the Fisheries and Oceans committee last week, but he refused the testify — and I didn’t blame him for a second — when the committee gave him only 5 minutes to make a presentation.

5 minutes was an insult to Fogo and all of rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

It wasn’t enough.

On Thursday in the House of Commons I asked the Conservative government whether it was prepared to defend the survival of coastal communities by ensuring they’re not sacrificed in the interests of big business license holders.

The answer I got is that the Harper Conservatives are standing by the last-in, first-out policy and point to the Liberals for having brought in the policy in 1997 in the first place.

The original press release from the late Fred Mifflin makes specific mention of the principal of adjacency — whereby communities closest to the resource benefit from the resource.

There is no mention of last-in, first-out.

As Earle McCurdy of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ Union has pointed out, that policy does not work in the realities of today’s fishery.

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has complete discretion in all management decisions and she has the ability to change this policy.

The impact of last-in, first-out on rural Newfoundland and Labrador will be devastating.

It deserves more than four days of meetings in Ottawa.

Thank you.

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