Letter: DFO ignored inshore fishers’ wishes

Published on May 27, 2017

Fishing boats at Herring Neck, near Twillingate.

©Glen Whiffen/Special to The Telegram

I’m a fish harvester from Red Harbour on the Placentia Bay side of the Burin Peninsula. I’m also the elected representative for the FFAW executive board for fish harvesters on the west and south coasts.

I’m proud to represent fish harvesters and I’m proud to be a leader in the FFAW, which has done more to advance the well-being of fish harvesters than any other organization in the long history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

For the past three years I’ve watched my fishery collapse right before my eyes. The crab fishery that once sustained hundreds of inshore fishing enterprises in Placentia Bay has declined so hard and so fast that it is hard to comprehend what has happened. The lobster fishery in this area declined a few decades ago and never recovered, and the cod fishery, the traditional fishery of the area, has been teetering on collapse for several years.

Suffice to say this has been a challenging time in the fishery in Placentia Bay.

On Friday afternoon, May 12, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced that, in the future, all fish harvesters in 3Ps would be permitted to combine three fishing licences under one enterprise — a concept known as 3-for-1 combining. This decision affected two different fleets — the supplementary fleet of vessels greater than 40 feet that fish south of Placentia and Fortune Bay, and the inshore fleet of under-40-foot vessels that fish inside the bays.

The decision by DFO capped a two-week long debate amongst fish harvesters over the merits of 3-for-1 combining. This debate was spurred by a ballot sent out by FFAW to 3Ps harvesters asking whether they wanted 3-for-1 combining or not. The issue had been discussed for several years and it was time for the supplementary and inshore fleets to vote “yes” or “no” on the issue.

As a member of the inshore fleet, I personally did not support 3-for-1 combining. In Placentia Bay, there are too many licences and too few fish. Combining does not solve that problem; the same number of licences will exist, except someone can now own three as opposed to one or two. Combining also encourages people to buy more licences without any sense of whether or not it is a sound financial decision. This means more harvester debt, which is already a major problem in the fishery, and future policies should be focused on not making it worse.

But my opinion is just one of a few hundred and I was satisfied to accept whatever result the inshore fleet selected.

For the past three years I’ve watched my fishery collapse right before my eyes.

On Friday, May 12th, I sat with another harvester and a representative from DFO as the ballots on 3-for-1 combining were counted. For the inshore fleet, 133 ballots were returned and 53 per cent voted against 3-for-1 combining, 47 per cent in favour. The opposite result was achieved in the supplementary fleet, where 34 ballots were returned and 56 per cent voted in favour of 3-for-1 combining.

Despite a clear rejection of the idea by the inshore fleet, DFO went ahead and implemented 3-for-1 combining in both fleets.

Three-for-1 combining will bring a fundamental shift in the economics of the inshore fleet. It could possibly trigger massive deflation or inflation in licences. Deflation would punish those trying to get out while inflation would punish those who want to stay in. DFO’s decision will have consequences for an inshore fleet that never asked to be subjected to them.

It has been said many times over the past few months that DFO and FFAW are one and the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. DFO operates how it sees fit; sometimes it will heed the advice of harvesters as voiced by the FFAW, and sometimes it does not. DFO has its own motivations and those are not the same as the FFAW.

Wayne Masters
Red Harbour