About a year ago, a portal creaked open and the fishing industry got a peak into the DFO licensing dimension. It was frightening and it only got more so as the days went along.
First, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is clear that the National Online Licensing System isn’t, well, a system or a program. It’s a “portal” into the regional licensing systems until they can be consolidated into a national licensing system. (The outright terror I feel at the thought of how that’s going to impact people who fish for a living can not be overstated.)
For years we heard about how sophisticated the MARFIS (Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s licensing system for the Maritimes Region) system was. Then we learned a few weeks ago it doesn’t have the capacity to insert a page break into a document. Last fall in the final days before our lobster fishery opening the system shut down for almost a day in the first 24 hours after the license conditions were finally available (license conditions are required for fishermen to legally go fishing). One week later, a few tears (mine), and much rage (bold, red, italics may not have been my most professional response to the misrepresentations in an email) and I was finally told there was back-up plan to issue conditions if there was another system shut down. I think it took that long to come up with a plan.
This week we received the new “service standards” for licensing services in the Maritimes Region. Gone are the days when if you needed a substitute operator (someone to operate your license if you were sick) or an temporary vessel replacement (yours broke down and you needed to take a different boat) you would call your local licensing office, speak to a pleasant person on the other end of the phone, and be on your way with paperwork in hand, usually in under an hour. Now, you need to plan these events up to 3 business days in advance for the paper work to be completed, depending on work loads. (I know I’m able to schedule my bouts of the flu 3 business days in advance). For example, groundfish conditions (which used to take up to 24 hours from request and that wait seemed endless) now can take a week, depending on when the request is received and the processing schedule. The result if the paperwork isn’t produced in a timely manner: the boat doesn’t go fishing. Product isn’t landed. People don’t get paid.
In theory, moving towards an online system could provide more flexibility and responsiveness for an industry that definitely does not fit in a 9-5 Monday to Friday box. In reality, the only semi-automated system has actually reduced the service and increased the complexity for the fishing industry. The potential of 24 hour service was only an illusion. Even the most basic of services, like paying a fee on a credit card, takes up to 12 hours for the document you paid for to be available to print.
All of this though ignores the most major flaw: when the majority of the demographics you are serving is over the age of 50, moving to a mandatory, completely computerized system for them to access licenses to continue operating their fishing enterprises is maybe not the most functional choice. It’s even worse when it isn’t functioning.
A year of venturing through their “portal” has seen glitches, hiccups, and multiple condition reprints as their client service takes 3 giant steps backwards. One thing has become abundantly clear – we didn’t realize how dedicated and amazing the licensing staff was (and continues to be) to actually manage to produce paperwork from that system to allow fishermen to go fishing.