October / 1997

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Sydney, N.S.
October 30, 1997 :

Recently, our president Jeff Brownstein had an opportunity to participate in a Video-Conference Presentation to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. The following is his contribution on behalf of Local 6.....

Greetings, Honourable Members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans:

I am grateful for this opportunity to share with you some of the concerns of inshore fishermen, and their communities. There are so many things that I would like to raise with you, but I know that you are here today to look into the TAGS situation. I'd like to talk about TAGS in its broadest sense: that is, "The Atlantic Groundfish Strategy", and the long-term vision that TAGS should really lead us to.

There are too many editorials in the Globe and Mail, and too many bureaucrats in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, promoting the distorted view that all the problems in the fishery are caused by "too many fishermen chasing too few fish".

We need our representatives in Government to look at the facts that fleets were built, and the large plants to accompany them, in a manner that could not be sustainable. And this was done by our own Government, with large subsidization, and led to groundfish moratoria, massive unemployment, and the near-destruction of the very communities that pioneered the settlement of Canada.

In the early 1980's, Enterprise Allocations of fish were given to the large corporations chosen by the Kirby Report. These were given, not because of any history in the fishery, but because these corporations guaranteed that they would catch all of this fish and employ lots of plant workers. Unfortunately, those plant workers are now the larger numbers of recipients of TAGS and are facing severe hardship.

These Enterprise Allocations were the beginning of a privatization of the fish stocks which have continued to do nothing to conserve the fish, while they have continued to create problems of over-capitalization, in boats, and in the buying up of someone else's quota. ITQ's were then forced on the fishermen here by the early 1990's. I say "forced" because in this area, inshore mobile groundfish license holders were given a ballot to vote for or against ITQ's for cod, haddock and pollock.

Of the ballots that were sent in, more of the license holders were against ITQ's, but DFO was determined to implement them any way. So they decided that all the ballots that were not returned must be votes for ITQ's. So we got ITQ's. Then they sent out ballots for ITQ's in flatfish, which is what this fleet fished mostly. They were threatened by DFO that if they did not opt for an ITQ, then they might get very little quota. National Sea already had about 50% of the flatfish quota, although they actually had very little history of fishing flatfish. Again the ballots did not show a majority for ITQ's, but DFO implemented them on the grounds that the ballots supporting ITQ's would get over 50% of the quota.

This is all to illustrate the point that there is a definite agenda to privatize the fish into fewer hands, while guaranteeing that effort levels will always be at least 100%. This also brings with it the need for more policing in the manner of monitoring and observers, at great cost to the fishermen; and quotas have to be so accurate, for conservation's sake. And we have all seen too much damage done by quotas that were wrong. The long-term solution to TAGS is not to continue as before.

I submit to you that the greatest gain to the people of Canada will come from the fish being shared more equitably by the type of multi-species inshore fleet, which is the majority of fishermen here in the Maritimes. Questions of capacity reduction should be addressed in each community management area. (Example: Sydney Bight).

Some areas have a bigger problem than others. In this area we did not have an overcapacity in our under- 45 ft. class of vessels, which we call "inshore". Our fish got wiped out by bad management, and much bigger boats. In this area, we have had equal dependencies on groundfish and shellfish.

There are many other species that we depend on as well. In fact, when TAGS came out here, many fishermen wondered why they couldn't qualify, since they had significant histories in fishing cod. But the fact was that they had slowed down their cod fishing when the cod got smaller and scarcer, years before any moratorium. It is painfully obvious now that the moratorium came too late.

Inshore fishermen, many of whom had made the bulk of their living fishing codfish, shifted their effort to lobster and other species, and are not receiving TAGS benefits now, regardless of whether or not they qualified. This is the kind of fleet that you want to keep fishing if we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Bigger has not been better in the fishery. Do not blame the smaller, multi-species, and hence, more cost-efficient vessels for the damage done by the bigger boats, and by corporations who do not have the same stake in sustaining the resource that communities of fishermen and women have. The biggest disappointment with TAGS was that little money, by comparison, was spent to buy out the real effort in the fishery. DFO science, as well as our own Sentinel Fisheries, are showing no promise in Sydney Bight and the Eastern Scotia Shelf for any recovery in groundfish. So we still have fishermen in trouble, who would like another chance at a buy-back.

But you should aim the money at the real effort. In particular, the best effort reduction would come from buying out the larger mobile vessels, and retiring their individual transferable quotas. These quotas should be held for the multi-species fleet to fish them competitively, subject to the rules of their own community management boards, when the stocks finally do recover.

In the case of buy-backs of multi-species licence holders - those who have big groundfish histories - these fishermen should not be forced to leave the fishery altogether, as they were in the last round of buy-backs. A good deal of effort could be reduced, at less cost, if these fishermen could remain in the fishery for any species other than groundfish. As it was, by selling their other licences there was no reduction in effort in these other fisheries.

The government has to accept its responsibility in the demise of our groundfishery, and the commitment that it made when TAGS started. People continue to suffer, and they don't have to be attacked or criticized because the TAGS program did not work miracles.

The problems are still there, and there has to be some real action to fix them. Retiring fishermen with a reasonable buy-back is only fair and practical. And retiring the bigger groundfish specialists will help the most people, as well as the resource, itself.

The Atlantic Groundfish Strategy has to be a very different strategy than it has been before. Communities of fishermen will take better care to ensure their future for the sake of their children and grandchildren as they have done in the lobster fishery, where the controls are effort-controls, not quotas. Where peer pressure makes for better observance for the rules, as well as a more stable fishery. To continue down the road of privatizing the fishery, is to ask to make the same tragic mistakes over and over again.

Multi-species inshore fishermen could hold the key to a brighter future if only you'd stop giving away the fish to people who can't keep promises based on what looks good on paper.

You Honourable Members of Parliament have a great responsibility to recognize what has gone wrong with the fishery, how many people have suffered, and how better and different management could sustain more fish and more fishermen, and women, at the same time.

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