Da Legal Stuff...

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Friday, June 10, 2005

Cod Fishing Protest Planned for July 16

The following, according to the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, is the definition of a kental of fish:

quintal n also cantal, kental, kintal(l) a. 'a hundredweight (112 lbs.)' (c1470-); 'esp in measuring fish' (1651-); DC 1 esp Nfld (1712-) 1 A measure of cod-fish caught by fishermen.

On July 16th of this year, despite DFO regulations, some Newfoundlanders (and perhaps some Labradoreans) will take to the water in an attempt to catch a few cod fish. Perhaps even a kental or two. They are asking people all over the province to support them and even join them in this unsanctioned food fishery. They are asking everyone to go out and fish on that day. They are asking people to risk arrest and possible fines, to risk being dragged through the courts and perhaps to risk having boats and gear confiscated.

I applaud them!

The cornerstone of the protest is the concept that Newfoundlanders, by virtue of being a coastal people, have the legal and moral right to catch fish. In the past, the UN has discussed the possible validity of this argument in relation to other coastal areas and has given it some merit. Fishing is a part of our long heritage and according to some legal experts it may also be legal for us to fish. It appears that there may still be a law on the books protecting that right.

The topic of an entrenched right to fish in our coastal waters has come to the forefront in recent months because of a court case involving a couple of islanders. These gentlemen have gone to the courts to question the right of the Federal Government to control the Newfoundland fishery within three miles of the coastline. The legal case centers on a law guaranteeing every Newfoundlander the right to catch two kentals of fish. This law, which existed for years prior to Confederation, was never legally removed from the books and according to the proponents, is still valid.

The argument is being made that the Federal Government has no right to change this law. These gentlemen are arguing that the law was never revoked and is still valid.

Do they have a case?

According to some legal experts and provincial officials, they do.

Recently the case went before the courts in the province. The judge in the case in essence agreed that there was merit to hear the case but decided that since it would require a ruling involving federal law, the provincial court was not the place for a decision to be made. At this point, all signs point to the possibility of bringing the case before the Supreme Court of Canada.

There are obviously a lot of hurdles to be jumped before a ruling is finally made one way or the other, but never the less, it appears that this recent activity and the fact that some validity has been given to the argument, has hardened the resolve of several Newfoundlanders and convinced them to challenge the status quo.

The sad part of this situation is that none of this might have been necessary if DFO had agreed to allow a summer food fishery in the province. In the past they have allowed summer long food fisheries in Nova Scotia and Quebec. Meanwhile Newfoundland, which is known world wide for its fishing culture, has intermittently been given a weekend or two for this purpose. So far this year, no food fishery has been announced for the province at all.

There will no doubt be some who argue that fish stocks are in such jeopardy that a food fishery will only worsen the situation. That argument doesn’t hold as much water as a leaky bucket on a windy day.

The volume of fish caught by recreational or food fishermen is miniscule in comparison to the volume taken by foreign vessels, through by-catch during commercial fishing and through study catches sanctioned by DFO themselves in an effort to evaluate the stocks. In fact, the amount taken would be so small as to not even register on the proverbial radar.

Another key point to consider is the fact that other provinces are often given summer long fisheries. The cod stocks are low in the North Atlantic, Period. This is not just an issue off the coast of Newfoundland. Fish don’t have border lines drawn on the bottom of the ocean or sign posts telling them where they are swimming. They have no idea when they are in Nova Scotia waters or Newfoundland waters. Fish swim where they like. If recreational fishing is allowed in one Atlantic coastal province it should be allowed in all of them.

I don’t believe for a minute that any of these protesters plan to go to sea in order to catch the full two kentals of fish this ancient law allows. Most recreational fishermen will most likely go out looking for 10 or 20 fish to salt or store for the occasional meal. The majority of these people are not idiots. They know that there is a small stock and abusing this would only hurt everyone involved. There are others interested in fishing rights who may only take to the water once in a summer or not at all for that matter. The issue isn’t the amount of fish an individual can go after but rather the right to go after it at all.

I’m sure this protest planned for July 16th has caught the eye of Federal officials and I’m sure they are taking keen notice. It will be interesting to see the outcome to the protester’s request for support as well as the reaction of DFO on that day. A lot may hang in the balance.

All the best guys and I hope our coastal waters turn black with boats.


MrChills said...

Believe me, if I was back in Newfoundland during this date, I would without a doubt participate in making this “hands on” statement.

Looking at my family tree, all four of my grandparents from the both sides of the family grew up on small coastal islands which have all since been resettled and abandoned during the dictatorship of the small-minded Joey Smallwood. Up until a generation ago as far as I could find ALL of these forefathers depended on the fishery as a way to a means, some dating back as far as the late 1600’s. To say that fishing is a part of my heritage, culture and a way of life is an understatement.

Since I left the province for the search of a “better life” five years ago, every time I went home, my Pop would have some fresh fish froze that he caught sometime during the pathetic food fishery, thawing out for me. Like clockwork I would make the trip up to his place after arriving to town and sit back and have a feed of fish and brewis with scrunchions, baked fish with onions and potatoes, boiled fish etc… That was until this past Christmas.

I did indeed make the trip up to my grandparents for the feed of fish, but this time the fish was frozen and purchased from the local Foodland for a small fortune. In all my life I never saw my Pop more frustrated and annoyed when asked where he got this piece of fish (usually he would say, well by’ we jigged this one of gull island, bloody reach etc…). With a distant look on his face he responded, “The only god damn thing that we ever had, they took away from us! What is coming to when a fellow can’t even go out and jig a measly fish for dinner?”

But, at the same time after getting in a discussion with him, regarding opening a full inland food fishery he also made a statement that stuck in my mind, “Newfie’s are most greedy people in the world”.

There is a lot of truth in that statement. Again as much as fishing is a part of a way of life for outport Newfoundland, we are a very greedy people. I can think of numerous people that I know that would make a dozen trips out the bay each day and come in with their boat loaded down each time with fish if a restricted fishery opened. As much as we blame the problem on foreign over fishing and mismanagement by DFO, our local fisherman in their trawlers and our locals poachers are just as much to blame for the demise in the stock.

Gordon said...

I bet we all know of cases of greed. I recall many people who would catch boatloads of trout in ponds.......only to abandon it! Even in hunting animals, "Shoot till the barrel turns red!" was a piece of wisdom given to me by one old man. I know we were very poor but.... this was only twenty years ago!

Nevertheless, our greed has become apparent only because our most important resource has been reduced to commercial extinction. There is Spanish greed too, but they send their boats all over the world. When the stocks are depleted here, they go there. So, they do not look so greedy.... well, in Spain. But let's go back to our greed.

Our greed (or is it a lack of education?) stems back to when we traded away the fishery in exchange for money from Ottawa. Think about it. Did we have to give away the fishery in 1949? No, at least, not if we had been more aware. By the time Canada was trading fishing rights to foreign countries in exchange for auto parts from Ontario, etc., it was already too late. At that point, it was only a matter of time..... and that time did come.

To me, it does not really matter if people try to provoke the DFO or not. In any case, the Mainlanders will not understand it (once again) and there is little fish to catch anyway.

What we have to do is really take a long look at the situation and decide if we should embark on a new course for the future. Like it or not, we've destroyed the old Newfoundland and Labrador. Now we have to build a new one. I am not sure if separating from Canada is the answer, however, I have absolutely no confidence in Ottawa to run the fishery. Personally, I think if Ottawa took over Saudi Arabia it would run out of sand! The fishery has to be free from politics and trade agreements which, I believe, played a big role in destroying the fishery as we once knew it.

The only silver lining is the Grand Banks themselves. There's a lot of food out there for fish to eat. If the fish are given a chance, they can be fruitful and multiply once again. What I talking about is a real moratorium on fishing.... by every foreigner and nearly every Newfoundlander and Labradorian. Leave the Grand Banks fallow and the fish will "come back". New Zealand has had success doing this. Their problem is not nearly as great as ours, but they have proven a point in successful fisheries conservation and management. Now, who can enforce this moratorium? Well, leaving fish out of trade agreements will be essential. Fishing countries often fish off shores where the host nation allows them to fish in exchange for something else. But who will police it? Well, we have lots of unemployed people in Newfoundland and Labrador, including fishermen. I'm sure they'll want a job. How much will this cost? Probably a lot, but they beat pointless Royal Commissions, endless yakking on talk shows, finger pointing and complaining.

Tony K said...

I agree to some degree with both MrChills and Gordon on the greed we've shown. There are always those who will abuse any system.

Having said that, do we really think that a food fishery will hurt the stocks to any real degree? When you consider the thousands of tons taken by foriegn and local fishers I don't think it will.

At least if we can't have a valuable commercial cod fishery we should be able to maintain a recreational food fishery so that another little part of our way of life doesn't disappear like so many others have.

Mark in Torbay said...

I'll be on the water on the 16th and I hope a lot of other people join in too.