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Monday, December 14, 2009

Winning an Un-Winnable Battle

How do you win an un-winnable battle?

It’s a question that's been on my mind since learning that the Harper government, in spite of Parliament's rejection of new NAFO amendments that could see foreign vessels patrolling Canadian waters, has decided to go ahead and adopt those amendments anyway.

After such an incident there are those who question whether democracy is utterly and truly dead in Canada and whether our sovereignty itself has been bartered away. There are those as well who will see this as the final nail in the Atlantic fishery with NAFO nations freely able to rape the ocean clean once and for all. Already, in some circles, talk has turned to the need for independence and separation from this “undemocratic” Canadian federation.

All I can say to those good folks is that they might want to consider choosing their battles wisely and perhaps, in this instance anyway, the right way to counter Ottawa’s actions is to simply accept them as our new reality while seeking ways to address the underlying concerns on a more local level.

Let’s think outside the box on this one.

Beating our collective heads against an immovable object (the PMO, DFO, take your choice) isn’t going to solve the problem at hand and make no mistake this is indeed a problem.

The Harper government has shown in the past that it has no love for Newfoundland and Labrador and certainly isn’t going to backtrack on a very public decision simply to make Atlantic Canadians happy.

On the other hand, if we could find a way to mitigate the damage, and perhaps even enhance our power position in the fishery, over time, wouldn’t that be a victory in itself?

With that premise in mind, perhaps we should consider working within this new system rather than futilely fighting it without any real hope of victory.

A great example of just such a "novel" approach already exists in the province so there isn't even a need to re-invent the wheel.

A few years ago the provincial government and some local groups felt that the Feds weren’t doing enough to protect our rivers and salmon populations. They argued and fought with DFO for a while until finally deciding the best approach was to simply do something about the problem.

As a result a number of provincially funded wardens were hired and sent forth into the Newfoundland and Labrador wildneress. A public awareness campaign about poaching was started and this campaign led to citizens groups forming their own civilian river watches.

Thanks to these efforts and others salmon poaching in Newfoundland and Labrador is way down from where it was in the past, stocks are generally improving and Newfoundland and Labrador now has far more say in the protection of its rivers than it has had for decades.

Could a similar approach work with ocean stocks? Could this be the answer to so many of the concerns people have expressed about foreign influences on the offshore?

Let’s explore the possibilities for moment.

Instead of battling Ottawa over a decision they aren’t likely to undo we might be better off lobbying the provincial government and our own people to take the bull by the horns (or the fish by the tail) when it comes to fisheries conservation.

If we can find the collective will to act we might see a far different fishery a few years from now.

Every day Cougar Helicopter flights pass back and forth between St. John’s and our oil platforms at the edges of our 200 mile limit. Provincial Airlines planes travel over our Grand Banks on a regular basis every day. The Province’s newly purchased water bombers, when not fighting major fires, will be sitting idle. No doubt these bombers require test flights from time to time to help ensure they’re in good working order. Couldn’t those “test flights” skim over the Flemish Cap just to see what’s going on out there.

With enough eyes in the air reporting back on every fishing boat, row boat or rubber duck near our waters, in a very public manner, nobody at DFO will be able to claim they don’t know what’s happening or deny that anything illegal is going on at all.

The cost of these measures is essentially zero. All it takes is the will to co-operate.

But let’s take it a step further.

What about the countess cargo vessels and oil tankers that ply our waters every day? Couldn’t they be asked, as a courtesy, to help spot questionable fishing boats and report whatever they see? It’s just a quick radio call after all.

What about fishermen themselves?

Since the fishery has always been a major contributor to the province’s economy isn’t it time for Newfoundland and Labrador to invest a few dollars into helping the ground fish stocks recover? It doesn’t have to cost a lot and the return on investment might be surprising.

Most fishermen already know the tricks of the trade. They know where the most important fishing and breeding grounds are. They know where illegal fishing is happening and they know who is involved (both foreign and Canadian). Perhaps it’s time to get them directly involved in the conservation effort on a more formal level.

If Ottawa won’t adequately protect the fish stocks then the province should set aside 2 or 3 million dollars a year (a pittance in the grand scheme of things) to pay for provincial fisheries patrols.

Why not?

Once most fishing captains have caught their quota for the season many of them simply take their boats out of the water and sign up for EI. Why not put yearly contracts out to tender seeking local captains to help patrol our waters once they’re finished fishing?

Of course these “civilian” patrols wouldn’t have any legal authority to stop rogue fishing boats or arrest anyone involved but they could certainly take a page from the same environmental activists who so often branded them as “barbarians” over the seal hunt. They could video tape the offending vessels, request official intervention from on site, provide very public evidence against violators and generally make offender's lives a living hell on the high seas.

Who knows, Ottawa might one day even help defray a small part of the cost should such a plan prove itself effective. After all, if off season fishers are gainfully employed in conservation efforts rather than collecting EI it would not only help remove the “stamp fishery” stigma attached to the industry but the effort could actually lead to savings in the EI system itself.

With enough Newfoundland and Labrador eyes on the water and in the air it might finally become a losing gamble for anyone bent on illegal fishing and I’m willing to bet it won't take long before the risks begin to outweigh the benefits for these culprits and we begin to get things under control.

As for addressing Ottawa’s new found fondness for allowing foreign patrol boats into Canadian waters, well, with countless eyes already on the water what possible excuse could they come up with for asking foreign nations to “invade” our 200 mile limit?

I began my little rant by asking how you win an un-winnable battle. I’ll close by saying that sometimes winning can take on different forms depending on your perspective.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Are we trying to win a battle with Ottawa for the sake of winning or are we truly trying to protect fisheries habitat regardless of Federal meddling and mishandling?

A few years ago when inland salmon stocks were in trouble DFO wasn’t stepping up to the plate. Today, thanks to local efforts those stocks are improving and Ottawa has practically abandoned its inland efforts, preferring instead to leave much of it up to the province and the public (not officially of course but the result is the same). In this case the dynamic has shifted and Newfoundland and Labrador has grown in strength.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for the future of the offshore as well.


Anonymous said...

We can easily track ships at sea. All we need to do is require NAFO ships to carry the right equipment.

See a few ships being tracked here:

Truth is only the political will of mother Ottawa is impeading the fishery that could be. The technology is there. If Ottawa cared at all there could easily be better policing. We don't need NAFO to act as guardians in our own waters.

Jingles said...

One of the problems regarding anything that goes on in Newfoundland is the unwillingness of Newfoundlanders to fight their own battles without approaching someone else to handle it for them. You are correct in your assessment that it's time Newfoundlanders took some responsibility for their problems. My father was a Department of Fisheries Officer Supervisior and in the early sixties, he wrote reports as to what was going to happen to the fishery in Newfoundland in the future. He was right on the mark but did anyone listen to him? Not on your life, not even Smallwood. The other avenue open to Newfoundlanders is the World Court. Approach them if this fishing problem cannot be resolved. After all, the world is fishing off the coast of Newfoudland. I am appalled on a daily basis regarding the ineptitude of politicians who are voted into positions of looking after such problems and yet, do not have the ability of a creative imagination to deal with such issues.

NL-ExPatriate said...

I like it!
Your right about trying to win an unwinnable battle so it is time to think of ways to achieve the desired results from another angle.

What most people don't realize is that the reason for this unprecedented relinquishment of sovereignty and failure to defend a member of the federation is the impending UNCLOS deadline of 2013.

We as the adjacent state have 10 years after ratifying UNCLOS 2003 to make our case to extend our 200 mile/ 400 km limit to include the entire continental shelf past the 200 mile/400 km limit including the rise and slope of the shelf. Effectively total ownership and control under the UNCLOS of the entire continental shelf.

So you see it wasn't so much that NAFO was rights withing the 200 mile/400 km limit but come 2013 they would have been kicked of the entire continental shelf.

Some of the concerns I would have with your proposal would be the immense size needed to be patrolled somewhere in the range of 1 million square miles I think. I read somewhere that our continental shelf is the size of the three prairie provinces combined.

Essentially what is need as a start would be a reporting mechanism, 1-800, web site, etc.

Digital reporting of video and pictures along with specific info like ship name, time, date, water line level, long lat direction heading etc all things fishermen would likely report anyway.

Another angle would be for friends and family to report observations in foreign ports.

Illicit the help of WWF green peace etc uggh.

The other issue is NAFO itself doesn't respect science based quotas and sets unilateral quotas so in essence overfihing legally in accordance with NAFO regulations.

By catch

High grading

Subsidize our fishermens fuel not unlike the EU does and target the migrating stocks along the 200 mile limit.

Fish the line.

Our ships have size limitations that make fishing or patrolling outside the 200 mile prohibitive.

Establish breeding zones and no fish zones provincially inside 12 mile I guess. Far enough away so they don't become migratory stocks.

Quotas exchanges IQ, challenge in court.

Infrared and night vision limitations.

Just some thoughts and rambling to help get the discussion started.

NL-ExPatriate said...

Just as a side note.

As with most things federal the definition of insanity comes to mind and I usually start praying the Serenity prayer.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Jingles said...

Did you not my comments from this morning? If not I will say it again.. Take this problem to the world court if this issue cannot be resolved.

Jingles said...

I won't be reading any more of your blogs. Bye-bye

Patriot said...

No problem Mr. Jingles. To each his own.

Jingles said...

Jingles said...
I won't be reading any more of your blogs. Bye-bye

December 18, 2009 2:49 AM

I don't know how I managed to post this on your blog. It was meant for Mr. Ed from the Sir Robert Bond Papers and I'll post it now....sorry about that.