It has already happened in British Columbia — and elsewhere — with fishermen, their communities and native bands being gradually squeezed out.
The question is not merely whether the Atlantic fishery needs “reform" — it does, in many particulars. The 33-organization Atlantic fisheries coalition opposing the Harper move acknowledges this, but says progress was being made.
The real problem with any reform is with the government itself. It is devious, secretive, ideology-driven and therefore untrustworthy. We need not refer to the F-35s, the G8 and other scandals on a lengthening list.
The government already has a history in fisheries itself.
In 2009, the government negotiated a new fish treaty with the European Union, one which would open the door to the EU having a say in how fish stocks are managed inside Canada’s 200-mile zone, which was drafted by the EU itself and, according to Canada’s foremost experts on fish treaties, naively accepted by the Harper government.
On Dec. 11 of that year, the minority House of Commons voted it down. Then, the very next day the Harper government signed the treaty anyway , in a pointed defiance of Parliament.
The only other explanation, the experts said, would be that the government was trading fishery considerations with the EU for something else.
Since then, under the radar, the government has been negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU, whose fleets habitually overfish off the Grand Bank.
With this government, all suspicions are in order. Logical question, then: Is the East Coast fishery being traded off in the EU free trade talks?
Before that, in 2007, the government struck with a bill that furious critics on both coasts argued would give the fisheries minister arbitrary powers over fishing, subvert national standards for fish habitat protection, and undercut the security of fishermen’s licences and fish allocations. The present initiative is a sequel to that bill, frustrated then by the government’s minority status.
What the Harper government wants to get rid of is the “owneroperator" policy (the owner needs to operate the boat) and the one on fleet separation, keeping catching and processing apart. These prevent corporate concentration. The plan would be to replace them with Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs), in which individual licence holders are given an allocation of the resource. Rationally used, this is one tool in the fish management toolbox. It exists, for example, in the offshore fleets for groundfish, scallops and herring where company fleets have their quotas, and exist elsewhere in different forms and to varying extents.
They’re much beloved by right-wing ideologues as the one-size-fits-all answer to everything because they’re the route to “efficiency" — often a buzzword for corporate concentration — with the inevitable blow to the small boat fisheries and the communities they support.
It works like this. When applied to any particular fishery, existing licence holders reap a windfall if they to sell out because both licences and allocations become speculative commodities. However, this stops dead the chances of new independents getting in because no one can afford licences. Fishermen drift away and the economy they support withers. Fishing becomes a dispiriting game of taking all the risks and sharing a diminishing amount with distant owners. Low-paid foreign fishermen end up doing the catching for investors.
In New Zealand, often held as the pure land of ITQs, there was recently a sensational case of Indonesian fishermen kept in slavery aboard Korean boats. An investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek found this very common in the $85-billion global fishing industry. Wait for it in Canada .
In 2007, then-fisheries minister Loyola Hearn declared: “Those who work in the fishery should enjoy the wealth of the resource. Not someone sitting in a condo in Florida." Then the prime minister told him what’s what.
The wisdom in Ottawa is that the Atlantic fishery is a “failure" that needs to be fixed. In fact, after the groundfish collapse — caused by large fleets, many on ITQ-type enterprise quotas — shellfish have come up and the fishery is a howling success, managed by trap limits and other effort restraints.
Fisheries consultant Marc Allain, who is co-ordinating the fisheries coalition, says he has never seen such single-minded unity among often-divided Atlantic fishing groups. The Nova Scotia government has demanded that Ottawa “clarify" its intentions. Fishing has drifted out of the Atlantic Canada media’s spotlight since the groundfish collapse. It’s time to bring it back. There’s a smell of rotting fish coming from Ottawa.
Source: the chronicle herald
Author: RALPH SURETTE