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A disturbing sense of déjà vu


By Barbara Dean-Simmons TC Media   Federal fisheries managers who were around in the days leading up to the northern cod moratorium must have all died.

Over 100 people — fishers, plant workers, shrimp plant managers and community leaders — were in Gander last week to make their case for northern shrimp for the inshore fleet.

And the files were buried with them.

That’s the only explanation that’s plausible for the fact that no one in the bureaucracy of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) appears to have learned a damned thing about the basic principal of conservation of fish resources.

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You see, the companies that own factory freezer trawlers still make it a practice to fish year-round and around the clock, this time for shrimp.

And one of the points made by inshore fishers last week in Gander to the DFO-appointed panel on the last in-first out (LIFO) policy, was that the practice of fishing during spawning seasons has to stop.

Phil Barnes of the Fogo Island Fish Co-op was just one of those who made the point.

He told the panel that while the inshore fishing fleets are active for just six months — May to October — in Shrimp Fishing Area (SFA) 6, the offshore trawlers hardly cease.

He says the zone needs some “quiet time” to breathe some life back into the resource.

He wants SFA6 to be an experiment, of sorts, a zone fished only by the inshore and only for six months.

The case for the argument is in the fact of the collapse of the northern cod stock.

Long before DFO acknowledged that the stocks were in trouble, inshore fishermen had been sounding the caution for years.

Throughout the 1980s, they warned that if offshore trawlers continued to fish the grounds during the season when cod were spawning, there would be no way for the stock to survive.

They were right.

Northern cod were pushed to the point of extinction and then, poof, they were nearly gone.

It left fishing communities in hardship, local economies teetering and municipalities having to rethink their budgets as fish plants closed down and the tax dollars disappeared.

A multi million-dollar federal government compensation program — two in fact — were necessary to save rural areas and the provincial government from financial ruin. 

So you would assume, after that experience, the mantra within the DFO would be “never again.”

But no.

Last week in Gander, fishers, plant workers, processing plant managers and municipal and business leaders, said the tragedy continues, this time with northern shrimp.

The stock is in decline. 

Yet the trawlers continue to drag.

What’s worse, and this is the thing that completely boggles the mind, is that this particular year — as the panel appointed by Hunter Tootoo travels the province to assess the LIFO policy — shrimp fishing was supposed to have stopped in SFA6.

It did.

But then the offshore fleet managed to convince DFO that they should be able to go back into that zone and fish.

The rationale was this. 
They had not caught their entire quota in the last season. 

So, they figured they should be allowed 15 days to finish catching that quota.

DFO called it “bridging” when it conceded to the request.

I’ve got a more accurate word for it.

The words also starts with a “B”.

And rhymes with ‘it’.

Lyndon Small of the Newfoundland and Labrador Independent Fish Harvesters Association says it was a slap in the face to inshore harvesters — who have had to wait patiently while the LIFO committee continues its work towards the June 15 deadline.

To add insult to injury, Small said, was the timing for the catching of the ‘uncaught’ quota.

“It was the prime time for egg bearing shrimp, from the latter part of April to the first of May.” 

Glen Best can’t figure it out at all.

The Fogo Island fisher said, “We had a resource that wassupposed to be in trouble, shut down and under review.

“Then two weeks ago we found out the offshore fleets would be allowed to go back to the area to fish under the “bridging quotas” deal.”

He can’t make sense of it simply because it doesn’t make sense.

Allowing fishing activity during spawning season never made sense with the northern cod.

It’s not logical for the shrimp either.

It’s not in the mandate of the LIFO panel to speak on matters beyond how to share up the shrimp resource.

However, if DFO continues to disregard the hard lessons learned from northern cod, the money spent on processes like the LIFO hearings will have been a complete and utter waste.

Because there will be nothing left to share.

 

Barbara Dean-Simmons lives in Trinity Bay. Her father was a fisherman and she’s been writing about the fishery for over 30 years.

Until next time, Over and Out.

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