BY KEITH SULLIVAN
As is evidenced from the recent Guardian opinion article by Fisheries Council of Canada President Paul Lansbergen, (“We need to enhance Atlantic Canada’s fisheries”), the corporate-owned processing and offshore sector is in full fear-mongering and misrepresentation mode.
Faced with a minister of fisheries and oceans that is willing to speak the truth about the challenges to the inshore fishery, the corporations that have aggressively endeavoured to shape the economics of this fishery for the past 20 years are now being told to play by the rules and they are enraged at the prospect.
The author was right to highlight the speech given by Minister LeBlanc in Nova Scotia last August in which he acknowledged that two crucial policies for the inshore fishery and the economic health of coastal communities – fleet separation and owner-operator – had not been adequately enforced for some time. The Minister committed to changing that, and said his government would enshrine both policies into legislation to give them the force of law.
What the minister understands is that the lack of enforcement of these two policies has contorted the economics of the inshore fishery into an unsustainable and debt-ridden beast. This beast was created by controlling agreements, which vest all of the rights of a fishing license in a processing company while leaving the license in the name of the harvester. The infusion of processing company money into the inshore marketplace for fishing licenses has fueled massive inflation in the cost fish licenses.
It is for this reason only that “fishermen work for years to pay off the debt attached to their licenses,” as the January 22 editorial stated. The “years to pay off debt” is a new phenomenon in the inshore fishery that started with controlling agreements, which harken back to the old truck system that kept harvesters in perpetual poverty.
The comments by Minister LeBlanc on reviewing the automatic renewal of licenses was aimed directly at the heart of the controlling agreement system put in place by the processors. The minister has no intention or motivation to place time limits on active harvesters holding licenses; after all these are the people the minister is trying to protect as they are the economic engine of coastal communities. And every harvester will one day retire and his/her license will be transferred to someone else (hopefully a young energetic harvester).
But as the minister knows, a company does not die and has the capacity through its controlling agreements to move licenses around indefinitely. Once a license is in a controlling agreement, it will never again be transferred to another harvester in the fair manner envisaged when license transfers were established. The minister wants to take a sledgehammer to the chains that bind licenses and controlling agreements together; that was the point of his statement.
The proposed changes to the Fisheries Act have the potential to safeguard the future success of coastal communities. The removal of corporate interference and their controlling agreements allows young harvesters in coastal Newfoundland and Labrador fair access to fishing licenses.
What the Fisheries Council of Canada is really concerned about is the bottom line of its members and maintaining and expanding corporate control of the fishery. If their concern for the inshore harvester is genuine, I invite them to join us in our call for the federal government to entrench the owner operator and fleet separation policy in law.
(Minister LeBlanc has subsequently tabled fisheries act amendments which support the viewpoints expressed by Keith Sullivan)
- Keith Sullivan, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union in Newfoundland and Labrador.