Recommendations for Developing a Strong Atlantic Fishery - Backgrounder

March 13, 2001

For the past five years the Atlantic Fishery has generated $1billion in landed revenue per year. More than 1,300 coastal communities in the Atlantic region are seeing the benefits of this renewal in the fishery.

The Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters made the following recommendations in response to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Atlantic Fisheries Policy Review committee’s discussion paper entitled The Management of Fisheries on Canada’s Atlantic Coast. These recommendations are designed to ensure the continued recovery of Atlantic Canada’s commercial fishing industry, and continued benefits for our coastal communities.

Recommendation One: A Clear Statement of Purpose

The Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvester's first recommendation for the Atlantic Fisheries Policy Review is that our fisheries policy be guided by a clear statement of purpose based on notions of ecological, social and economic sustainability. We would like to suggest the following:

The purpose of Canadian fisheries policy is to provide a broad framework to guide government decision making to ensure that Canada's fisheries resources are used in an ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable manner taking into account the long term well being of fishery dependent communities and Canada's constitutional obligations to aboriginal people.

The first lesson of the groundfish collapse must be that fisheries management ensure that the resource is used in an ecologically sustainable manner. But it cannot stop at that. Fisheries policy must also provide clear guidelines about the kind of social and economic "use" that is made of the ecologically managed resource. The government of Canada also has clear constitutional obligations to aboriginal people that impinge on the use of the resource once conservation objectives are met. Clearly this obligation must be part of the statement of purpose.

Recommendation Two: Entrenching Fleet Separation and Owner-Operator Policies

The first principle and highest priority governing resource management for the Atlantic coast fisheries should be that the fleet separation and owner-operator policies be entrenched in law. These policies guarantee that the economic and social benefits of the fishery would be as widely distributed as possible in fishing communities all along the coast. By giving priority access to owner-operators policy makers will also be making a strong commitment to conservation.

The Council is deeply disturbed that there is no mention of either the fleet separation or owner-operator policies in the Department's discussion document, despite the fact that Department has been aware of our concerns for several years. The current fleet separation and owner operator policies contain loopholes that allow commercial and non-fishing interests to obtain licences for the purpose of leasing them back to fishermen.

We recommend the following actions to deal with this matter:

  1. In the interests of an ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable fishery a licence holder in the <65' fleet sector shall be defined as an independent professional fish harvester (owner-operator).
  2. The Council further urges the Government of Canada to enact the regulatory or legislative changes needed to ensure that commercial fishing licences issued for the <65' fleet sector are held by independent professional fish harvesters (owner-operators).

Recommendation Three: Dealing With the Impending Retirement Crisis

In 1998, half (50%) of all fish harvesters registered with the DFO in the Gulf region were 46 years old or older and only 9% of fish harvesters were under the age of 30.

These facts are extremely significant. Over the next 10 to 15 years approximately 35% of the people who are now in the fishery will be retiring.

The most immediate policy issue is the cost of entering the fishery for the next generation of fish harvesters. Most of the licences acquired by retiring fishermen were acquired in the late sixties and early seventies when the limited entry regimes were first put in place. The value of these licences has increased dramatically with limited entry. The costs of entering the fishery for the next generation will therefore be greater than for any other generation in the history of our fishery. The minimal amortised carrying costs of the debt for acquiring these new licences will be virtually equal to the current average net revenue generated by the new enterprises. This means that the costs of loans will eliminate any prospect of profit for the next generation of owner-operator fish harvesters.

To deal with this we recommend:

The Atlantic Fisheries Policy Review examine in depth the public policy considerations related to the inter-generational transfer of licences and explore the different ways and means that would facilitate the establishment of the new generation of independent owner-operator fish harvesters including consideration of such options as: a capital gains exemption on the disposition of fishing property, a national fish harvesters' retirement savings plan and any other means that would give fish harvesters more control over the transfer of their fishing enterprises.

Recommendation Four: Professionalization

The Council is pleased with the Discussion document's references to the professionalisation of fish harvesters. The Department has been formally committed to professionalisation since 1996. Professional regimes are now in place in both Quebec and Newfoundland and the Department is facilitating a regional approach for professionalisation in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence that will cover harvesters in PEI and the Gulf regions of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Council hopes that the process underway in the southern Gulf region will lead to having a professionalisation regime in place in both the Gulf and Scotia Fundy DFO regions for January 1, 2002.

Therefore the Council recommends:

  1. The Council recommends that the Department, in collaboration with the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters, undertake a series of information sessions on professionalisation for DFO personnel at both the national and regional levels.
  2. The Council further recommends that the Department make professional certification a condition for participation in the commercial fisheries under its management in all regions where fishermen led professional certification boards are established and that it endeavour to have such boards established in all regions of the country.

Recommendation Five: The Next Steps

The Department has spent the better part of the last two years in intensive internal discussion and debate to produce its discussion document on the new policy framework for the Atlantic fisheries. Industry participation, particularly the participation of the interests represented by the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters, in this process has been marginal. The interests of the owner-operator fleets, however, are not marginal to the Atlantic fishery. The owner-operator fleets are responsible for upwards of 75% of the landed value and over 95% of the participants in the commercial fishery.

Therefore the Council recommends:

In light of the commitment expressed in the discussion paper to effective industry participation in fisheries management decision-making, the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters urges the department to disband the existing external advisory board and to establish an Atlantic Region fisheries management policy and planning body comprised of representatives of legitimate industry organisations and other direct stakeholders, to direct the development of the new fisheries management policy framework in phase II of the Atlantic Fisheries Policy Review process.

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