Politicians pander in P.E.I. on bluefin tuna issue

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By Troy Atkinson (Commentary): This is a response to the piece you published by Steve Sharratt on April 6, entitled “Scientific study of long-lining tuna will lead to destruction, warns MP.”

What would make politicians any different in Prince Edward Island? Nothing. Pandering to local constituents is all part of the program for elected officials, if they wish to remain elected. So why the concern with Prince Edward Island, then? Because of who they are and the positions that they hold. Specifically, the federal Conservative MP, The Honorable Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and the federal Liberal MP, the Honorable Lawrence MacAulay, the fisheries critic. The issue? Bluefin tuna.

Bluefin tuna have presented challenges for scientists and managers for more than three decades. The dilemma — the relationship between the spawning stock biomass and the young that they produce. Science has been caught between two equally plausible theories, high recruitment and low recruitment, with low-recruitment indicating that the stock is fully rebuilt and high-recruitment indicating the stock is no where close.

Science has indicated there are key areas of research that could bring the picture into focus. Three key indices, currently based on commercial fisheries, had become unreliable in recent years and that fishery independent indices be developed to replace them to develop a clearer understanding of the spawning stock biomass — recruitment relationship, one of which is the Gulf of St, Lawrence index.

Where does the pandering come in? To prepare for an upcoming meeting Fisheries and Oceans, Canada tendered an RFP to develop a fisheries independent index of abundance for bluefin tuna in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In all seven proposals were submitted and discussed by the bluefin industry, ENGOs, academics, and DFO managers and scientists on April 4. Scientific staff present concluded that three meet the criteria. The three proposals were one from an academic organization, one from DFO scientists, and one from the long line industry.

First, pandering by the minister. With P.E.I. representing 30 per cent of the Canadian bluefin landings, they were not pleased a long line proposal might receive further consideration. The minister’s staff has suggested such a proposal might cause political difficulties for the minister. So much for considering the proposals based on their merits.

Second, the critic. While Mr. MacAulay’s job as critic is to see the minister acts in the best interest of the fishery and the fish, he seems to have forsaken this to pander to his constituents. As stated in The Guardian on April 6, “MacAulay warns that P.E.I. hook-and-line tuna fishery is facing threat from destructive practice.” MacAulay is quoted as saying “If the minister considers allowing these types of vessels into our tuna fishery under the pretense of science, then all she is doing is allowing the destruction of the fishery.” The article further suggests that work would be done by 85-foot vessels and that long lining is not sustainable.

As fisheries critic, Mr. MacAulay should get his facts straight and realized his job is to see all interests in the bluefin fishery are served, not just those in his back yard, particularly the need to get the science correct. Remember, 30 per cent of the landings come from P.E.I. fishers, meaning that 70 per cent come from elsewhere, with the long liners being the third-largest users group. Mr. MacAulay points out the sustainable practices of the P.E.I. bluefin fishery, he failed to recognize the long liners were the first pelagic long line fleet in the world to be certified by the MSC as sustainable on a national level, something that no bluefin fishery has been able to accomplish. This fleet consists of 77 licence holders in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick with only one vessel greater than 65,’ 5-6 in the 45’ to 65’ category and the remainder is 45-foot vessels. Looks more like a fleet of 45-foot vessels, similar to those used in the P.E.I. tuna fishery. Why create the threat of large vessels coming into your backyard? Pandering again.

Note the use of the word “federal MP” in the opening paragraph to introduce both Gail Shea and Lawrence MacAulay, guess they both forgot that part on this issue. Their jobs as minister and critic were to do what is in the best interest of the country and not necessarily their riding or maybe they should have stuck to provincial politics.

What is needed here is for the Prime Minister’s Office to remind the minister that she is responsible for the whole country and not just her riding and that Mr. Trudeau’s office needs to remind the critic that it is his job to see to it that the minister does this as well and not just pander to those in his riding.

Pander all you please, if it benefits your constituents but not at the expense of everyone else.

 - Troy Atkinson is president, Nova Scotia Swordfishermen’s Association which represents the 77 swordfish / tuna long line licence holders in N.S., N.B. and N.L.

Organizations: Conservative MP, Liberal MP, MSC

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Canada, Nova Scotia Newfoundland New Brunswick Troy

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