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Monday, May 09, 2005

Fishing in the 21st Century

Newfoundland and Labrador was all over the national news services again last week. The big story was fish, fish and more fish. Between the international fisheries conference held in St. John’s and the protests surrounding the proposed Raw Materials Sharing Plan in the crab industry, the fishery hasn’t made as many headlines since the cod moratorium in ’92.

If you live outside this province it must look like we have gone back in time. Back to the days when fishing was Newfoundland and Labrador’s only real industry. Granted, it is a component of our economy, but not the way it once was. The big dollars in NL fishing these days are made in the half a billion dollar a year crab industry. These dollars are nothing to sneeze at here in the far east, but the industry is certainly not a major one on a global or even a Canadian scale. This is a fact that I think some of us forget or never even realized.

We all know that this industry is important to many areas of rural NL. We realize it has an impact on our overall economy, and on the lives of those connected to the industry. What we sometimes forget is that even though it may seem big to some of us it is not necessarily big to the rest of the world.

I have often wondered why the Feds pay so little attention to the fisheries. Why they don’t step up security on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks at the cost of angering some of our NAFO partners. Why they have used the fishery as a bargaining chip in foreign trade agreements over the years. Why they don’t seem to care as much about this industry as we would perhaps like them to. I believe I finally understand the reason. Simply put, it is not a big industry, not by a long shot and is not at the top of the Federal priority list. This may hurt our NL sensibilities and it may be hard to hear, but never the less, it is a fact.

Let’s look at the numbers. The most recent economic indicators from the Federal Department of Industry shows a nation wide GDP of 1,061 billion. This is made up partly of the following items:

Finance, Insurance and Real Estate – $214 billion
Manufacturing – $186 billion
Retail Trade – $61 billion
Construction – $59 billion
Professional Services - $47 billion
Information and Culture – $43 billion
Mining and Gas Extraction – $38 billion

Where does fishing fit in? Well, as a matter of fact, the report issued by the department doesn’t even define fishing by itself, let alone the crab breakdown. Instead it is grouped with other industries. What it shows is that if you combine Fishing, Agriculture, Forestry and Hunting, you get a total GDP of only $24 billion.

Statistics also show that for the year 1999, (the latest year I could locate), the entire fishing industry in all of Atlantic Canada had exports of only $2.6 billion. This from an industry that during the 2000 – 2001 period, required regulation and control by DFO at a cost to the federal government, (our tax dollars), of $1.4 billion. If you do the math it is easy to see why the Feds don’t spend as much energy on this industry as some would like. $2.6 billion (export value) - $1.4 billion (DFO Cost) = $1.2 billion.

What does this really mean? Well, it means that once you factor in DFO costs, fishing exports in the Atlantic region account for just over 1 thousandth of the Canadian economy. That would equate to you or I having $10 and 1 cent in our pocket. I doubt we would cry too much if we lost the 1 cent.

On the Provincial front fishing means much more than just straight economics. It is a part of our culture, it keeps some towns alive and it feeds other industries. We all realize these things, but from a strictly economic perspective, it may not be as critical to our economy as many would like to think.

The number of a half a billion dollars has been tossed around as the value of the crab industry in this province for example. The GDP for NL this year is projected at $20 billion, which means that the crab industry accounts for 2.5% of our GDP. Not insignificant, but not a show stopper either. Factor in the Provincial Government cost of maintaining and delivering services to small communities where most fishing activity takes place and you can see why Mr. Williams is willing to take such a hard line in the current crab dispute.

I have endeavored to sit on the fence in the crab dispute and I will continue to do so. I do however think it is time to bring out some of these facts. The fact is, nobody wants to see the crab industry shut down for the season. If it is, a lot of people will be hurt and the economy will indeed suffer, but if fishers think they have the Premier over a barrel financially, the numbers say different and they should understand that.

We all realize that the crab industry and the fishing industry overall is important to us in different ways. For some it can’t be given a price tag because it is a matter of the ultimate importance, survival. What we often fail to realize is that in the grand scheme of things, it is not the end all and be all of our provincial or Federal economies in the 21st century. The days of our rural fishing economy are slowly and painfully winding down and we will eventually have to face that fact. The world knows this; the Canadian Government knows it and I believe our current Provincial Government knows it. Unfortunately it’s usually those closest to an issue who are the last to know what’s happening.


Fisherman's Friend said...

Numbers don't say it all. The crab industry means a lot more financially to this province than half a billion. What about the spin off industries? I think Danny is over a barrel and he is going to back down or we'll flatten this province.

Anonymous said...

Helps put things in perspective doesn't it.

Give it a try! said...

I noticed there aren't a lot of fisher protests happening today. Could it be that the handful of fishermen who set sail for NS were the ones causing all the racket? Could it be that the majority of fishers and plant workers are willing to try the plan but are afraid to speak. It sounds like there may be a silent majority out there.

Pissed in Placentia said...

It looks like we may have an end to the empasse soon. I heard on nightline last night that fishermen - boat owners - are signing a petition for the FFAW union to either accept the government plan or put it to a vote of the members. Looks like Earl McCurdy is losing the support of the fishermen.

I agree with what "Give it a Try" said. I also think that there are a percentage of fishermen, perhaps 10 or 15 percent of the big boat ones who are being the most vocal and pulling everyone else along. These are probably the same ones that are now selling their crab out of province. Meanwhile they want the support of all the other fishers and plant workers who are being starved out. This small group doesn't care about anyone but themselves.

Really, I mean they are selling in N.S and Quebec while their union brothers and sisters are in a desparate way. I heard someone say that the government has the province tied up and because of what they have done, fish is going out of the province.

According to people like this, fishermen can do not wrong. Well let me tell you something. There is plenty of blame to go around on both sides but the fishermen involved are not all innocent. The government didn't tie up the boats and the government is not the one steaming to N.S. with the catches because of something that these fishermen think might happen. Meanwhile what is happening is that people are losing their cars, homes and have nothing to eat. That's not something that might happen, its something that is, and this handful of fishermen are doing that.

Gerry said...

Someone should take the bull by the horns and either get the boats back out on the water or close the fishery. Period.