Egmont MP Gail Shea is sworn in as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans on Monday, July 15.
Egmont MP Gail Shea has returned to her former post as fisheries minister, but her return comes at a challenging time for the industry in Atlantic Canada.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper moved Shea from National Revenue into Fisheries and Oceans during a major cabinet shuffle Monday.
She previously served as fisheries minister from 2008 to 2011 and also briefly was acting minister last year after former Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield had a heart attack.
Shea says she is happy to return to the fisheries portfolio.
“First of all, there’s no bad seat at the cabinet table. So I’m very happy to be there,” Shea said.
“Fisheries are very important to all our coasts and there are issues that need to be worked on and I look forward to working with the stakeholders. I made a lot of friends when I was in fisheries (previously).”
One of those stakeholders is the P.E.I. Fisherman’s Association. PEIFA President Mike McGeogheghan says he was surprised Shea was put back in charge of fisheries, but is happy with the appointment.
“She knows the fishery and we’ve worked with her in the past so I think it’s a good move,” McGeogheghan said.
“When you can meet with a minister in your own province… that makes it a whole lot easier. When Ashfield was minister, it was very difficult to meet with him, so just to be able to have more consultation, I think, is a whole lot better for us as an industry.”
Shea returns to fisheries at a time of upheaval in the lobster industry. During the recent spring lobster season, P.E.I. fishermen initiated a strike that lasted six days over the low prices offered for their catches this year - $2.75 to $3.25 per pound. The strike swept through the Maritimes and nearly brought the industry to a standstill.
Since then a regional panel has been struck to look at the factors affecting lobster prices in the Maritimes and the provincial government hired former auditor general Colin Younker to also examine the issue.
McGeogheghan said lobster fishers in Prince Edward Island are fed up with the current practice that allows prices for lobster to be set several weeks after the season begins.
P.E.I. fisherman will not go out and fish lobster without first knowing the prices, he said.
“We don’t know how the price is set, who does it? We don’t know those things, those are things we have to find out and the minister needs to find out too,” McGeogheghan said.
“The fishery actually belongs to the Canadian people, we just fish it for them. And neither us nor the Canadian people are getting the money for the resource that (buyers and processors) are giving us.”
Shea acknowledged the low prices for lobster is an issue of major concern in Atlantic Canada, but said she would await the findings of the panel looking into the matter before making any major decisions.
She said part of the issue is one of supply and demand. Due to positive steps taken to conserve lobster stocks in Atlantic waters, there have been increases in catches, which some have described as a glut in the market when lobster is in season.
“When there’s too many lobsters on the market, the price decreases,” Shea said.
“I want what every fisherman wants, that is, to be a viable business so they can make a decent living from a sustainable fishery. I’ve said from day one the answers, the solutions have to come from the industry so I would hope that there will be a fulsome discussion in the fall and going into the winter that will come from the report that will be generated.”
Before Monday’s shuffle, Shea served as Minister of National Revenue and was Minister in charge of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).
Veterans Affairs Canada, whose department headquarters is located in Charlottetown, also has a new minister in charge. Ontario MP Julian Fantino was named Veterans Affairs Minister. Fantino replaces Quebec MP Steven Blaney, who has been moved to Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Shea fast facts
- She began her career in provincial politics in 2000, appointed Minister of Community & Cultural Affairs
- From 2002 to 2007, she served as Minister of Transportation and Public Works.
- Elected to the House of Commons in 2008
- Was the first woman in Canada’s history to serve as Minister for ACOA.
- Prior to entering politics, she managed a small family business for 15 years.