Da Legal Stuff...

All commentaries published on Web Talk are the opinions of the contributor(s) only and do not necessarily represent the position of any other individuals, groups or organizations.

Now, with that out of the way...Let's Web Talk.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fisheries Minister Rocks Boat

I never thought it would come to this but it has. Here I was enjoying a nice summer hiatus and today I find myself suddenly back in front of the keyboard writing in defense of actions taken by the Federal government of Canada in Newfoundland and Labrador.

That’s right folks, your’s truly has not only broken his summer respite but I’ve also been reduced to defending the actions of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), a federal agency that has all but destroyed the outport way of life and ruined Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy with their utter mismanagement of the North Atlantic fishery.

It’s not something I enjoy doing but when the situation calls for it what options do I have?

The reason for my inability to sit idly by (which I was doing quite happily) comes after the recent announcement of this year’s commercial cod quota by Federal Fisheries Minister, Gail Shea.

It seems the Minister (who is well known for a number of politically motivated and underhanded decisions since taking office) has left this year’s northern cod quota largely unchanged from the previous year. According to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW), “…quota increases are almost non-existent” and this, so it would seem, has fishermen across the Province very, very angry.

According to the FFAW’s David Decker, Minister Shea and her officials “either have no idea about their own science data, or are choosing to ignore it. (this is) another crippling blow" for the industry.

Clearly the words of someone who is angry with the current situation, but for what its worth, I’ll tell you what makes me angry and, at least in this case, it certainly isn’t the Fisheries Minister or DFO.

What gets under my skin, and the reason I find myself sitting at my keyboard today is the absolute unmitigated gall of the fishermen and the FFAW leadership who are once again screaming for an increased cod quota when they know full well that the cod stocks are in such poor shape.

Yes, the science shows that inshore stocks are showing signs of an increase, in fact rather encouraging signs. That said, the hope now is that as inshore stocks continue to grow they will help repopulate the offshore which where the species is still teetering on the brink of extinction, even 17 years into a moratorium.

Yes, the offshore fleets that are illegally fishing need to be stopped and Canada is not doing enough to fix that problem.

Yes, foreign ships skirting international waters on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks or Flemish Cap need to be stopped (blown out of the water would be my approach) and again the fed is doing nothing to fix the problem.

Yes, Canadian quotas for offshore fleets (of any species) need to be better controlled, bottom dragging needs to be done away with and so much more needs to happen, none of which is on Ottawa’s radar.

In short there are many things Ottawa can be blamed for when it comes to the fishery, including allowing the stocks to collapse in the first place, but when it comes being conservative when issuing quotas for rebounding inshore stocks the only blame I see in all this rests squarely with the fishermen and the union, not with Ottawa.

We all know it’s been a hard year in the fishery but is that an excuse to increase quotas and make a quick cash grab at the expense of the future viability of the fishery itself?

The FFAW is often the first to complain about fisheries mismanagement but they’re also the first to scream to high heaven when quotas are managed with the future of the stocks in mind.

Grab a buck today and to hell with tomorrow should be the motto in the fishery these days.

That’s an attitude that boils my blood.

Between endless federal governments and provincial governments, the fishermen and their union and the plant operators as well the fishery has devolved into a mess of monumental proportions. It’s a quagmire of muck and slime so twisted and convoluted that it would take a nuclear bomb dropped into the middle of it to disassemble it and untangle the individual components so they could be rearranged into anything even resembling a viable industry.

Fishermen consider themselves “independent business owners” yet they have no product (the fish is a public resource), they have union representation and they collect EI for more than half the year. What kind of independent business owners do any of us know who fit that description?

The fisheries union (FFAW) represents both the suppliers (the fishermen) and the plant workers. This means that in practice the FFAW is supposed to fight for the best per pound price for the fishermen when dealing with plan owners, and also fight for the best wages for plant workers, wages that can only come from the plant owners if they get a lower price from the fishermen. Add to this the fact that the FFAW itself has its own fish quota and operates a handful of fishing boats and the level of conflict becomes staggering.

Ottawa has always put political expediency ahead of fisheries protection or management (perhaps with the exclusion of this current quota which is why I’m really ticked at the FFAW). DFO has been negligent and corrupt in their management practices for decades and the state of the stocks is all the evidence of this anyone needs to see.

Consider as well that countless political leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador have made a career out of parlaying fish plants for rural areas into election wins and the blame for the overall mess in the industry casts wide net over everyone involved.

Believe me, if the verbal diarrhea flowing from the FFAW’s David Decker hadn’t raised my hackles today I’d be out enjoying a great summer day (thanks again by the way) but there comes a time in each person’s life when there is only so much B.S. you can put up with and this my friends is one of those times.

For (pick your divinity) sake, the cod fishery was decimated nearly 20 years ago and in all likelihood the crab, lobster and many other commercial species are headed in the same direction. It’s time for all the stakeholders to do what needs to be done. Let the chips fall where they may.

For starters quotas should only ever be set based on the most conservative science, as was apparently the case this week, never ever for political reasons, which is usually what’s done.

Yes there is no doubt fish caught in off of Newfoundland and Labrador’s shore should be processed in the Province but plant owners need to be given the freedom, with that parameter, to run their business as they see fit. If they want to close down most of their plants so the remaining ones will provide meaningful and full time work and so they can make a real profit for the investors they should be able to do so. In other words fish plants need to become an actual place of business that produce fish products not EI stamps.

Fishermen need to make a decision. Either they want to be employees of a fish producer or they want to run independent business enterprises. They can’t be both. If they are independent business owners then they should have their EI access cut off and lose their unionized status. If they want to be employees of the plants then the plants can buy their boats and licenses and give them a decent wage for fishing.

Yes, this will all mean great hardship in many places across the Province but at least it will finally bring some order to the chaos. What kind of life is it for people who spend year after year watching the industry decline all the while realizing their only real goal is to get enough stamps to make it to your next season of EI?

It’s time for some leadership and backbone, something clearly lacking among all the generally recognized stakeholders in this industry, with the exception of the one forgotten stakeholder.

Far too often forgotten with all the flapping mouths are the silent stakeholders, the public, you and me.

The fish stocks, if they belong to anyone belong to all citizens, not just the fishermen.
The seemingly endless tax dollars thrown at the industry (usually into a large empty and bottomless money pit) comes from the pockets of John’ and Judy Public. This means we all have a right to intercede in what’s happening. In fact we have more than a right, we have an obligation. Perhaps its time the silent stakeholders took a stand.

Well, this taxpayer has reached the end of his rope and is willing to say loud and clear for everyone to hear, “Enough is enough. Either fix it or shut it down completely”.

Meanwhile, back to my reason for writing today, Minister Shea and the quota she set this year (sorry for going off on a tangent but anything to do with fisheries issues tends to cause mass confusion), all I can say is, “good job” Ms. Minister. If you only performed as efficiently, properly and non-politically with regard to the numerous other aspects of your portfolio we might finally get somewhere with this mess.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Web Talk - Summer Break

With summer upon us and as "sun rays crown thy pine clad hills" it's time for Web Talk to take a short hiatus.

I hope those of you fortunate enough to be living in Newfoundland and Labrador will take the time (as I will) to get out and enjoy this beautiful part of the world. Those living elsewhere, please stop by for a visit to refresh your senses.

Web talk will be back later in the summer but in the mean time please feel free to stop by anytime and enjoy some of the past articles you may have missed.

Cheers for now,

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Just a moment

Please don't forget to take a moment for silence and reflection today. It's the least any of us can do.