Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Fighting for the Fishery

Fighting for the Fishery

By: Ryan Young

No matter how bad things got, you could always fish. That was the way of the world for generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians before the fish went away and the cod fishery closed in 1992. I was just a young boy then, growing up in a thriving fishing town on the Northern Peninsula. Before the moratorium, my hometown had 2 fish plants and seven stores (if you include the 2 gas stations) to service 700 residents. Twenty-five years later that number has dropped to just 428. Only 1 store remains open and both gas stations have closed. Despite being located in one of the provinces best tourist draws, Gros Morne, the town was unable to sustain enough employment to keep people there, and as more people moved away, the jobs became even scarcer as the town began to slide down an endless downward spiral. Sadly, this story is not unique to my hometown. It is the story of many people’s hometowns since the moratorium.

While many people left the fishing boats behind in search of more stable employment away, the ones who stayed behind faced a constant uphill battle to make a go of it without the precious cod to catch. The industry changed and modernized, and the remaining harvesters and plant workers dug in and did whatever they could to stay home and live the lives passed down from their fathers and grandfathers. It wasn’t easy, but those who did stay managed to adapt and find new ways to earn their living from the sea. They invested in new gear and they learned how to fish all sorts of new species. After all, fishing is not just a job, it is a way of life. That may sound like a cliché, but it is true nonetheless and must not be discounted if we are ever going to have a frank and open discussion about the fishery in this province.

Now, we move into an era where the biomass of species such as crab and shrimp that replaced the cod in the holds and tubs aboard so many boats have been decimated, and quotas are being drastically cut, fish harvesters are left to wonder how this can be happening again. Almost overnight, some quotas were slashed in half, jeopardizing many enterprises throughout the province. With more bad news announced last week about the capelin biomass, harvesters are bracing for yet another blow to an already weakened industry. On the heels of that, we learned yesterday that the price for northern shrimp will be cut by 45 cents this season making the reduced quotas even more detrimental to the bottom line of boat owners. It should come as no surprise that harvesters have been protesting and demanding answers and accountability to the issues that are threatening their very way of life.

After a quarter century of being told to be patient and put their trust in DFO, harvesters are still wondering why they are not being consulted when it comes to fish science and setting quotas. This is the heart of why harvesters gathered at DFO and FFAW offices over the past couple of weeks and why Richard Gillett endured an 11-day hunger strike to ask for adequate consultation before finally being taken away in an ambulance when his health began to fail. While many have questioned Gillett’s tactics, the point that many people seem to be missing is that he and many other harvesters have been going through the proper channels for a long time without any satisfaction and they are genuinely worried about their futures.  When people don’t have anywhere else to turn, they lash out in desperation. That is what we have been seeing from harvesters, pure desperation that they may be about to lose their entire way of life and they don’t even get a say in the matter.

Hundreds supported Gillett’s hunger strike in person and thousands more supported him online. For those involved in the fishery, such drastic actions were easily justified if it meant bringing some serious attention to the issues that harvesters in this province feel need to be addressed. Many are wondering where our 7 federal MP’s stand on the fishery and an e-petition is being circulated to call for a federal public inquiry into the NL fishery. While fish management is not technically a provincial government issue, many are also wondering why Dwight Ball and Steve Crocker have not taken a tougher stance with Ottawa on the major issues surrounding our fishery. Independent MHA, Paul Lane is calling on the premier to initiate an all-party committee on the fishery to develop a position paper for the federal government with recommendations on how to best manage the industry as we move toward the future. Both the petition and the all-party committee are good ideas that would open the lines of communication and hopefully facilitate cooperation between both levels of government and harvesters, to ensure that all of our elected officials and managers are acting in the best interest of industry stakeholders.

In light of media attention and public scrutiny, the FFAW has tried to pass the protests off as little more than a publicity stunt orchestrated by FISH-NL.  Blaming the labour dispute is an easy way out for Keith Sullivan, but protestors outside of the union office on Hamilton Road on Monday were all very quick to point out that they are all due-paying members of the FFAW and all they are asking for is a seat at the discussion table. With so much turmoil and uncertainty in the industry right now, it is hard to blame the harvesters for wanting better communication from the union and DFO, or for asking to be part of the science. For years’ harvesters have complained that they are not included enough when decisions are made concerning the fishery. Their knowledge is invaluable to the success of the scientists and to the future success of the industry, and it is time for them to have a real seat at the table.

It doesn’t matter if you live in St. John’s, St. Anthony, or St. Lewis the fishery is a province-wide issue and a strong fishery is good for all of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is obvious that despite their efforts so far, the federal government has not been able to properly manage our fishery in a sustainable fashion. People who depend on the fishery are fed up with the status quo and it is time that both our provincial and federal governments start to work together, and directly with harvesters in this province to develop a fisheries management plan that will address both the short-term and long-term needs and goals of the industry. Gone are the glory days of the fishery, but maybe if we start to work together with openness and transparency, we can find a way forward to ensure that we will still have a viable industry for generations to come.

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