Size matters

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They say that size doesn't matter and in many cases that's probably true.

The famous American author, Mark Twain used to say, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it's the size of the fight in the dog."

And, no doubt, there's a lot of truth in that statement which can be applied to any number of situations.

However, in some cases size definitely matters and it matters a lot.

Take the case of the northern cod stock, for example. This once-abundant species was placed under a moratorium in 1992 and now, 20 years later, Canada is still making ‘ad hoc' decisions related to the recovery of the stock.

At least that's the perspective of Professor Jeffrey Hutchings, a marine biologist who chaired a 10-member Royal Canadian Society panel to look at the state of Canada's fishery.

The panel's report said that, while Canada signed the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement in 1995 which pledged to follow the so called ‘precautionary approach' to fisheries management, we still have no target date set for the recovery of the northern cod stock. The report also states that countries like the United States, Australia and New Zealand have such targets, as do parts of Europe. Canada has almost none.

According to Professor Hutchings, the Barents Sea cod stock was in dire straits in the late 1980s but today it is thriving.

So, the question is, why? Why can one species of cod rebound after being overfished and another one is still not fully recovered?

There are probably any number of factors at play here such as water temperatures and other climate change conditions. However, Professor Hutchings says that Canada needs to be making better long-term decisions related to the fishery, based on science.

One key point Professor Hutchings mentioned is that there are no political costs for making poor decisions related to the East Coast fishery.

There are currently 308 seats in Canada's House of Commons. Only 32 of those seats come from the four Atlantic Provinces while 170 are found in Quebec and Ontario alone. It's not very likely any federal politician is really worried about making bad choices related to the northern cod stock with such small political clout in Atlantic Canada.

When it comes to jobs, current statistics show that 76 per cent of Canadian jobs are in services, 13 per cent are in manufacturing, six per cent are in construction and two per cent are in agriculture. That only leaves three per cent for all the rest. So, there are not a great lot of jobs in our fisheries - another reason why politicians don't have to worry too much about the industry.

Another issue is our physical size. Canada is the second largest country in the world. Farmers on the prairies are so far removed from us and probably don't empathize too much about problems in the East coast fishery. You can almost hear them saying, "It's an Atlantic problem, not ours."

So, we need to change this attitude and make the fishery a Canadian issue as Professor Hutchings suggested. But, how do we do that? There are not many peacetime issues that strongly unite Canadians from coast to coast to coast and, apparently, the fishery is not one of them.

The point is that federal politicians of all parties need to be more concerned about the Canadian fishery and have to give it the serious attention it deserves. No doubt, the various Ministers of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans over the years have been concerned about the fishery. However, we need to be concerned more, and we have to make the problem a Canadian issue that all Canadians can relate to.

It won't be easy but it can be done.

The Coaster

Organizations: Royal Canadian Society, House of Commons, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, East Coast, United States Australia and New Zealand Europe Barents Sea Atlantic Provinces Quebec Ontario

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