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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Being a Fed Fisheries Minister from Newfoundland: Blessing or a Curse?

Newly minted Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn is in Newfoundland this week for meetings with DFO staffers and Provincial Fisheries Minister Tom Rideout among others. Of course these meetings are largely intended to give the new Minister with the lay of the land and provide an opportunity for him to meet the players. That reality hasn’t stopped local interests from already trying to promote change in several areas of fisheries, and nor should it.

Many people see the appointment of Loyola Hearn as a blessing for this province in the sense that the top fisheries position will be filled with someone who has fought for years in the over the issues and understands the fisheries as well, or perhaps better than, anyone else in political life. It may indeed be considered a blessing for many in the Province but it's likely somewhat of a curse for Mr. Hearn himself.

Before his feet hit the rock there were already calls for specific high value items to be addressed. First and foremost in the minds of many in the Province is the move toward custodial management outside the 200 mile economic zone. Stopping foriegn fishing in those hatching grounds is critical to the survival of the the cod biomass as a whole, not to mention the local industry. This is something Hearn himself has championed for years and in a public statement late last week he said that he is already looking into doing just that. The big question is how much progress can realistically be made on this file by a minority government.

A unilateral move of this kind will likely invoke a major backlash from other Countries and this won’t sit well with the Minister of International trade or perhaps even the Foreign Affairs office. Add to this the simple reality that saying you are invoking custodial management and actually doing it are two completely different things. Without a military presence to enforce the stand it will amount to nothing more than an internal PR move that causes rancor in international circles. A lose/lose situation for any Minister.

The next item on the public agenda is the so called food or recreational fishery. This one has been a sore point for many individuals for years. The last straw came when the outgoing Fisheries Minister (Regan from Nova Scotia) put a food fishery in place in his home province on the way out the door while leaving Newfoundland and Labrador to fend for itself. Before leaving office Regan saw to it that Nova Scotia had a 9 month a year food fishery allowing 5 fish per person / per day with no tagging required. Meanwhile Newfoundland and Labrador continues to fight for any kind of reasonable food fishery. This move by Regan simply stoked the fires of anger in NL and it's an issue that Mr. Hearn will have to address fairly quickly if he hopes to maintain local support.

There are also calls for the new Minister to examine claims that the Province, not the federal government, should be the one in control of fisheries within 3 nautical miles of the coastline. Many argue that this right has been the Province’s since Confederation and that it was usurped by Ottawa when they brought in the cod moratorium in 1992. Whether or not Mr. Hearn will address this issue remains to be seen but if he does, and if the decision is to return control of those waters to the Province, the entire question of a recreational fishery may be a moot one since the decision to open a fishery of any type within those boundries would then rest in the hands of the Provincial Legislature, not the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Of course there are many other issues that are being hurled at the new Minister including the setting of quotas and management of the seal hunt among others. Although the issues are perhaps too numerous to list these three in particular should be coming across loud and clear these days. Mr. Hearn has always been an advocate for fisheries issues and now is the time for him to step up to the plate and take some action. The time for talk is over.

I for one would love to see a new joint Federal/Provincial Fisheries board setup to manage the resource. Patterned along the lines of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), this body would allow for joint management, the setting of qoutas, fisheries regulations and science. But hey, who am I to get involved right?

Anyway, the truth of the matter is that taking visible and relative actions quickly may ruffle some feathers of some in Ottawa and abroad. Perhaps it will even result in Mr. Hearn being removed from his cabinet position eventually, but the result of not taking action may be far worse for him in the long run. It’s one thing to be left out of the loop within your party, it’s quite another thing if you don’t have a job at all.

Reality Check: Clear inaction by a Fisheries Minister from this province is a sure way to ensure that you don’t get re-elected in Newfoundland. Clear action, any action will result in upsetting about 50% of the general public but at least the possibility of re-election will still exist.

What a blessing this job truly is for Mr. Hearn.

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