March 14 / 2001

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March 14 / 2001


Thank you for this opportunity to address the Policy Review here in Cape Breton. The fishery is probably the richest resource we have left here in Cape Breton. Despite the groundfish crisis of a decade ago, we still have almost the same number of multi-species, inshore fishermen making a better living than ever, having benefited from increases in the stocks and values of our various shellfish fisheries. We submit that this is the fleet that can sustain the resource and our coastal communities at the same time. The fishermen who live in our communities want to do their best for conservation, since our livelihoods, and the livelihoods of our children, and grandchildren to come, depend on it.

I must state here, at the outset, that fishermen are very sceptical of this Policy Review. A few years ago, DFO proposed a new version of the Fisheries Act. There was a huge outcry from fishermen across the country, fearing that the new provisions for partnering were a way to privatize a public resource, and would separate the fisheries by species; by gear sectors, and so on. The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries, and the Panel Studying Partnering Report, both reflected the concerns of fishermen, and called for a:

"full assessment of coastal community, Aboriginal and other needs related to the social and economic effects of privatization; and more equitable distribution of the fishery resource to allow opportunities for small-scale fishers." (Standing Senate Committee, 1998)

The Panel on Partnering recommended not going ahead with "legislation for partnering.......... and to urge DFO to review and coordinate efforts to develop a community-based management approach...."

The Committee and the Panel were independent of DFO, and really listened to our concerns, in fact, they also held off DFO's proposed agenda. Now we have this Policy Review. And while you say there has been so much consultation before this leading to your discussion document, the general belief is that this is the same old DFO proposal, and reflects none of the concerns of the broad-based, multi-species, owner-operator fishermen's organizations across Atlantic Canada. And we have to trust that in this part of the process you will actually start to listen to us. Unfortunately, we remain sceptical.

Conservation of the Ecosystem
The discussion document defines Conservation "as sustainable use that protects ecological processes and genetic diversity for present and future generations' and goes on to say that "fisheries management should incorporate both a precautionary and an ecosystem-based approach." This all sounds fine. As I said to begin with, it is the owner-operator, multi-species fleet that live in our communities and care about a sustainable fishery. Our organizations are broad-based and multi-species and we think about the ecosystem. DFO has a long way to go, to overcome the single-species orientation of the management and science branches.

The Precautionary Approach and Oil and Gas Exploration
Fishermen here are extremely disappointed that DFO has appeared to abandon all concern for the precautionary approach; the ecosystem; and the fishermen, when we have asked for protection from the potential harm of Oil and Gas Exploration in our inshore waters. We're having a hard time figuring out what these same terms mean to the Department.

Lobster Fishery as a good model
We have shown ourselves to be proactive on conservation in our lobster fishery. MFU Local 6, working with other groups and DFO scientists went port to port leading discussions on lobster conservation; on tagging studies done in the area, and their results. This led to a vote by the fishermen which was 75% in favour of increasing the minimum-size lobster we would take. This was before Minister Anderson's decree to double egg-production, through lobster conservation measures.

In fact, our lobster fishery is a great example of sustainability. It has been our most stable fishery over the last century. This may be due to the fact that it has been controlled by fishermen at the community level, more than any other fishery. When the rules come from the fishermen, they are far more likely to be followed. Also, the lobster fishery is managed by effort-controls, which have proven themselves far more reliant than quota management.

The Groundfish Crisis
This is in stark contrast to what happened to the Groundfish fishery. Our inshore fleet watched the offshore move into Sydney Bight in the 1980's, having been given quotas that were unsustainable, with heavily-subsidized processing plants, which were also unsustainable, and soon the groundfish stocks were in crisis. The TAGS programme in this area paid out most money to the laid off fish plant and trawler workers, displaced by the crisis. One could say this was the severance programme for the offshore workers. The owner-operator fleet continued to fish for other species, without government assistance.

The issue of Gear Technology has never been adequately addressed. The draggers had the ability to seek out and scoop up almost all of the cod left in the area, when they were congregating to spawn. These fish would not have bitten the hooks of the longline fishermen and would have been spared to reproduce. DFO has only responded to questions of appropriate gear technology with various selective fishing gear experiments, and token measures like the Canadian Code of Conduct, to detract from the real issues of habitat destruction, and issues of damage by some gears, that are well-documented, but ignored by DFO..

Fleet Shares
The idea that Fleet Shares should be entrenched, means that those who did the most damage in the years that the fishery was destroyed are to be given this quota, if and when the stocks rebuild. We cry foul, and demand that in the future, it would make more sense to leave our local groundfish to our local, multi-species, owner-operator fleet. It is the "multi-species" nature of our core fishermen that can spread out the effort to whatever can withstand it, and not over-fish, as the specialist fleets of the past have done.

Minister must retain authority over Allocations
The Minister has to retain the authority over fisheries allocations and access, since the resource remains public, and that demands the type of accountability that one expects from a Government Minister. The idea of transferring such authority to arm's-length allocation boards is not acceptable.

Community-Based Management
In terms of governance, there is the long-debated notion of co-management, or sharing of authority between DFO and the fishermen. We like the concept of community-based management, because that relates to the resource, and to the way our organizations have developed. Here, in Sydney Bight NAFO Area 4Vn, we have incorporated the 4Vn Management Board. This Board is comprised of the four fishermen's organizations, which together represent the majority of fishermen in 4Vn. Sydney Bight makes for a natural community, since it is a common zone for lobster, groundfish, herring, and many other stocks. Fishermen in this zone are fairly like-minded, and all depend on the multi-species approach toward making a living.

We have requested more sharing of authority over fisheries management, but need the time and support to make this work for all of us. Obviously, this can't happen overnight. And we mustn't rush the process, if it is to last into the future. Every fisherman has to have a voice in the process, which means that we need strong, accountable organizations, that represent all of the fishermen in the area.

Unfortunately, DFO has never helped us achieve this, but has encouraged fragmentation of fishermen into smaller groups. One way this has been done is by allowing anyone a voice at the table in advisory meetings, whether they represent a hundred fishermen or a handful. Another way is to divide the fishermen separately by species, or gear sectors. Still another way is by encouraging smaller groups, and bypassing the larger, broad-based organizations when it comes to such things as temporary allocations of snow crab.

The need for Strong Organizations
DFO has to recognize the larger organizations and/or umbrella groups that can really move forward in the direction of constructive co-management, with accountability to all fishermen. These organizations should cover the appropriate geographic community, and cover multi-species. In Nova Scotia, the legislation to allow for all fishermen to join an accredited along with mandatory dues, requires that 60% of all ballots are returned, and that a simple majority of these ballots would decide whether every fishermen in a region must pay dues, and join an accredited organization. The difficulty is in getting 60% of the ballots returned. General apathy has hit the voting process in anything these days, as we have seen. And DFO has the fishermen too confused, for reasons just mentioned, as to the need for an organization, or what is an organization.

The same legislation calls an "accredited organization", one which has at least 100 members; annual dues of at least $100.; and an obvious system of accountability, and reporting to its members. Some exceptions may be allowed, but those are the guidelines. They should be the minimal guidelines for legitimate representation of organizations working to share more authority with DFO for fisheries management.

There is, of course, the need for capacity-building within these organizations so that each member knows their role in the organization, and ultimately, the decision-making process. We have had some good experience in our Local with this training a few years ago. This takes a lot of time and resources, but is a necessary part of the process.

Aboriginal Fisheries
Page 68 of the discussion document says: "Aboriginal communities will also need to build their capacity to manage local fishing activities and enterprises. It is important that DFO be actively involved in the process to share information and to help build effective communication among stakeholders in all sectors."

It would appear, rather, that DFO is helping to keep the Aboriginal communities, and the fishermen, apart. When we talk about community-based management, we believe that we should be working together with the Aboriginal communities that are planning to fish in the same area. So far the process seems to be DFO talking to the First Nations, and not sharing any information with us, nor doing anything to encourage these same First Nations representatives to talk to us. We would welcome a meaningful dialogue together with the Aboriginal communities.

Other Interests
The discussion document is filled with references to making a place for recreational fishermen, aquaculturists, and ecotourism operators. No where in the document will you find the word fisherman. While there may be a place for these other interests, it would be nice to see some recognition of the importance of the owner-operator fishermen of Atlantic Canada. We do come from a tradition dating back 500 years, and contribute greatly to the economy of Atlantic Canada. We do provide good quality food for people everywhere, and hope to support our communities for generations to come.

As with the conflicting interests of Oil and Gas Exploration, we wonder why DFO does not seem to want to consider that our activities should call for some priority.

One size for all does not fit
Many of the topics covered in the discussion document might lead to different methods in different areas, when it comes to action on these items. Policies should allow for the fact that different methods of management; different policies, even, might fit different areas/ecosystems. Flexibility is central to making things like co-management work; and practices must evolve at their own rate.

Thank you for your time and attention to these points. I would be glad to elaborate further on anything mentioned here, at your request.

Respectfully submitted,

Jeff Brownstein
President, Local 6 Maritime Fishermen's Union

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