National Fish Harvesters Council says Future of Owner-operators key public policy issue facing fishery

March 31, 2001

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans was told in no uncertain terms today that if it wants to protect fish stocks then it has to protect independent fishermen.

Earle McCurdy, President of the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters, told the Department’s Atlantic Fisheries Policy Review committee in Dartmouth, that fish processing companies and other investors are quickly buying up fishing licences supposedly reserved exclusively for fishermen through under the table financing arrangements that circumvent government policy.

“This is not news to the Department. The Atlantic Fisheries Policy Review was made aware of our concerns months ago yet not one reference is made to the issue in the Department’s discussion document. Consequently, we believe the opportunities for contributions to the Policy from the industry and other stakeholders so far have been token” McCurdy said. “An industry led multi-stakeholder policy roundtable should be mandated to receive public input and to work with the department on the development of a set of principles that will guide the management of the fishery in the long term.”

If nothing is done Atlantic Canada’s independent fishing fleets will soon fall under corporate control with serious implications for conservation and the economic well being of small coastal communities that depend on these fishermen for their livelihood.

“Twenty-five years ago the Government of Canada decided that the best way to share the wealth generated by the fishery was to issue fishing licences to individuals instead of corporations for vessels under 65 feet. It did this to avoid corporate concentration. It was wise public policy then and remains wise public policy today.”

“It is common knowledge in fishing villages throughout Atlantic Canada that fish processing companies and speculators are brazenly circumventing government policy and buying-up fishing licences meant for independent owner-operators because of legal loopholes in our existing fisheries policy.”

“These loopholes have to be plugged. Providing fishing rights to fishing people must be the first principle and highest priority governing resource management for the Atlantic coast fisheries.

“We already have a policy framework that places a priority on providing access rights to real fishermen involved in successful fishing businesses. The policy framework needs to be strengthened, updated and revitalised but the foundation is there. The Atlantic Fisheries Policy Review is the opportunity to state unequivocally that as a matter of public policy and in the pursuit of the "best use" of a publicly owned resource that the owner-operator fleets will continue to be the main building block on which an Atlantic fisheries policy is built”, McCurdy said.

McCurdy recommended the Government of Canada enact regulatory or legislative changes needed to ensure commercial fishing licences issued for boats less than 65 feet are held by independent owner-operator headed enterprises.

Mike Belliveau, Treasurer of the Council, said the Department must renew its commitment to owner operator and fleet separation policies in order to bring to an end speculation in fish licences.

The Council said the government must also come up with a plan to deal with the fact that 35% of the country’s fish harvesters will be reaching retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years. “There is a huge inter-generational transfer about to take place in the fishery which will have an impact on public policy.”

The cost of entering the fishery will be prohibitive for the next generation of harvesters. DFO calculations show that payments on the loans needed to acquire a licence will equal the current net revenue generated by the average fishing enterprise. McCurdy said innovative solutions including a capital gains exemption on the disposition of fishing property and a national fish harvesters retirement savings plan are things the government should be looking at.
The Council also called on the Department to change its timetable and process for the development of its Atlantic Fisheries and Policy Review so that it can include a multi-stakeholder policy roundtable.

The Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters is a non-profit organisation founded in 1995 to represent the interests of fish harvesters at the national level and to promote professionalism in the industry. The Council is governed by a Board of Directors with representatives from commercial fish harvester organisations in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia including First Nations and freshwater fish harvesters.

Copies of the Council’s full presentation to the Policy review are available upon request.

You can see the media release in its original format here.