Stay the Course on Owner Operator

Back in July I had the privilege of attending a political announcement for my job.  Political speeches are nothing new, and often don’t say anything new. This one was different.  In it, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc announced the government’s intent to enshrine the owner operator policy into the Fisheries Act. For fishermen, it means that the license holder owns and operates the boat; he (or she) is independent and not following the direction or control of someone else. For coastal communities in rural Canada, it means that the beneficial interest from the fishery flows from fishermen to the communities they live in. It’s something inshore fishermen have been fighting to maintain for decades, but particularly for the last five years when a Department of Fisheries and Oceans policy paper on “Modernizing the Fishery” omitted any mention of the owner operator policy. The fight has been long and the stakes are high. For many communities (like mine) fishery after fishery has become corporatized and those fishing boats, jobs, and money have left our island. Watching the corporate creep into the lobster fishery is like living the fishing version of Groundhog Day.

 

That’s why that July afternoon when the announcement was made, I freely admitted I got a little teary eyed. When I looked around the room full of burly fishermen and jaded industry reps, I wasn’t the only one. It was kind of a big deal, and we all knew it was. For that moment in time, there was a ray of hope against a backdrop of bureaucratic molasses climbing up a hill.

 

There’s been fear mongering from the other side about decreased license values and government taking licenses. It’s meant to distract and divert attention by people who have the most to gain from losing the owner operator policy. It’s a political tactic we’ve seen play out far too often on far bigger stages. I think fishermen are smarter than that. I think they’ve watched fleets and opportunities disappear from their wharves and they don’t want to lose any more. I think communities understand that if they want to maintain the way of life that they’ve had for generations, they need to make sure there is an opportunity for young people to enter the fishery as independent business owners, not as a paid per hour labourer for a corporate interest.

 

I think this because as the industry reps left the announcement in July and went home, we started having a similar experience. We were approached repeatedly in groceries stores, at the dentist, in the bank, at the wharf by different people with the same questions:

 

“Do you think they’re really going to fix owner operator?”

Do you think I’ll really be able to have my own boat and licence?”

 

That ray of hope I thought I’d glimpsed in other red rimmed eyes in Chester has spread. It’s an important fight; an important discussion. Too important to be distracted. Too important to lose.

 

Stay the course.

With a Side of Cod

Early next week in a Toronto court room a fisheries drama will play out. While not the normal or expected backdrop for a fishery focus, many eyes and ears will be listening for what decision will be rendered. It’s been a bit of a pre occupation for the inshore owner operator fleet so it was on my mind when I sat down in the airport in Toronto for lunch. It seemed a good omen when I saw this on the menu:

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The story is familiar; the benefit of the resource is moved away from those who actually fish and their coastal communities to those with less attachment to the ongoing state of the resource.  Fish is a commodity; not a way of life.  Those in that way of life tend to not have the resources (political or financial) that those in the commodity market do.  They’re left on the side lines and their community and livelihood is taken from them bit by bit.
Today the Standing Committee on Fishieres and Oceans released a report on changes made to the Fisheries Act in 2012. Recommendation 29 in the report is that the Minister may specify conditions supporting social and economic objectives in addition to conservation under the authority Fisheries Act. And really, that’s what owner operator is all about: protect the thriving social fabric of coastal communities in rural Canada.  Support a fishery that produces good, middle class jobs in those communities.

 

So we wait for a decision on whether a contract to circumvent policy was valid. So while the main participant appeared to get cold feet last month and then warmed them up again, I remain slightly in awe that someone who didn’t have enough money for a boat or licence to go fishing is being represented by one of the largest law firms in Canada. But what do I know; I think I’ll just go read a Committee report and eat some more cod.

 

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PS – If you want to support owner operator fisheries in Canada, hop over to this website and sign the letter.

Owning the Owner Operator Policy

I read a blog post this week and the first paragraph rang so true to me: how most media stories would lead you to believe that the fishery is on its last legs and a dying industry when the opposite is in fact the case.  What really caught my interest though was that there is a movement in the United States that if new fishing licences are issued, that they be to owner operators. At a time when Canada’s commitment to owner operator fisheries seems to be seriously in question, it’s interesting to see other countries advocating and moving in that direction.

 

Owner operator fisheries means simply that the person who owns the boat and license is the one on the water fishing. While the official policy jargon in Canada will tell you that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans supports owner operator fisheries, the reality of policy decisions over the past two decades that I’ve been in the fishery have resulted in quite the opposite: management has moved towards individual transferable quotas (ITQ’s) which ultimately result in consolidation of access to the resource for a few (mainly) corporate interests who then hire people to fish.

 

So what’s the problem, right? People still have jobs fishing. Well, I guess it depends on how you look at it.

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What happened to “service”?

I’ve discovered as I’ve aged that my tolerance for some things becomes less and less. I have this crazy, idealogical concept that government and the public service is actually about, well, serving the public, so it’s no surprise that the National Online Licensing System can generally make me rant like an angry monkey. Let’s just say the DFO’s explanation of their service standards yesterday was one of those things:

 

 

We often hear from clients who are wondering how long it takes for licensing to process a request, from the time we receive it to completion. The following information will provide you with DFO Licensing service delivery standards. Below are most of the services that licensing provides online with an approximate time for that service to be completed. This should provide guidance for your clients so they can plan ahead. Please feel free to post it in your office for fishers to read.

2 Business Days:

– Request licence conditions – 2 business days (if conditions are ready when requested)
– E-mail/voicemail inquiries – 2 business days (advice, licensing policy information)

*(Licensing does not accept requests for service by voicemail. Any voicemail requests for services that are available in NOLS receive a standard e-mailed response).

*(Licensing endeavours to respond within 2 business days; however, high volumes and staff shortages can contribute to a longer response time)

5 Business Days:

– Fisher Registration renewal
– Licence renewal
– Vessel Registration renewal
– Vessel Transfer
– Substitute operator (medical, vacation, etc.) 5 business days (30 days for medical over 5 years)
– Vessel Transfer
– Request licence conditions

30 Business Days:

– New fisher registration
– New vessel registration
– Licence re-issuance (licence transfers, combining)
– Stacking/partnership arrangements – 30 business days
– Applying for new licences (recreational, marine plants)
– Other Licensing Services not listed (requests for information, etc.)

Continue reading “What happened to “service”?”

A Bend in the Road

A couple of weeks ago I came across this article talking about efforts being made to retain access to the ground fish fishery within the community of Martha’s Vineyard. While the fishery is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Martha’s Vineyard, it like most coastal communities along the northeastern US and Atlantic Canada were settled because of the bounty of the northwest Atlantic. Through time and attrition, access to the resource trickled away from smaller boat fishermen into a more corporate system.

To say the article hit close to home is an understatement.  On our island, we have watched as mobile herring, ground fish and a portion of the scallop fleet slowly moved from independent fishermen to corporate control and subsequently to individual transferable quotas and fleet rationalization.  The result: the loss of those fisheries and jobs from our community.  Now, our multi-species fishery has become largely dependent on the lobster fishery with other fisheries acting a supplement. Dependence on one species is a bit of a scary concept.

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Ode to Aquaculture Activity Regulations

A week ago Wednesday,
The email came through
The regulations had passed
Indeed it was true

Discussions we’d had
Year after year
Our concerns were the same
But no one would hear

Continue reading “Ode to Aquaculture Activity Regulations”