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.
A week or so ago MacLean’s published an online article “Why Canada’s Seafood Market is so bad, and costs so much” Seafood doesn’t always get a lot of national media attention so I was anxious to see that perspective. I was surprised to discover that the “market” referred to was a literal market and not the global market (demand) for Canadian seafood.
The gist of the article is the author’s frustration that the best Canadian seafood is not available in Canada and that the seafood he can source in (I’m assuming) Toronto is not of the same quality. He also talked about how the Chinese market (particularly for lobster) developed out of the economic crisis in 2008 when seafood prices at the wharf reached price lows not seen in several decades.
I was left wondering if the quality seafood he longed for had ever been available or if it had become unavailable. The former would indicate a lack of an established market, which would lead me to question if its a lack of connections within in the industry, cost-prohibitive or timing of transportation, or some other barrier. A newly-developed lack of access would to me seem to indicate that there was a lack of established demand at the current market price. Price of seafood caught in Atlantic Canada is set in US dollars (as it is with many Canadian exports.) A lower Canadian dollar means that the price of seafood is higher in Canadian dollars whether it is sold in Canada, the United States, or China. It’s that final fact that caused me to reread the article several times. There seems to be an insinuation that Canadian seafood should be sold in Canada at a Canadian market price regardless of outside factors. I don’t expect that cars built in Ontario or oil from Alberta will be less expensive for me because it’s from Canada, so I’m not sure why we would expect that seafood would be.
While I don’t know a lot about marketing, I think there’s a huge opportunity to develop seafood markets (physical and metaphorical) within our country that would benefit both fishermen and consumers. It’s a story with exploring; I hope it’s one we get to tell someday.
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:
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.
PS – If you want to support owner operator fisheries in Canada, hop over to this website and sign the letter.
For some reason one of the bureaucrat expressions that seems to be increasingly popular generally contains some reference to a “toolbox”. This expression is probably one of my least favourite* because it feels meaningless; it’s become a catch all phrase that is a crutch for people to feel like they’ve reached a solution:
- “We need to develop a toolbox so that when the stock reaches the lower reference point we have a suite of tools available in the toolbox to appropriately respond.”
- “We need to make sure there is a toolbox of applicable actions to deal with the situation.”
- “We are developing a toolbox to address the situation and it will be available online.”
- “Was a toolbox meeting held?”
- “We should look in the toolbox and see if there is a screwdriver”**
Perhaps a toolbox makes sense to some people but really I think what we need to develop is a knitting bag. I mean think about it: a knitting bag can deal with just about any situation and is so much easier to carry.
- You need to know if you’ve reached the random measurement – grab your measuring tape (assuming you can find it).
- You need to remember where you are – grab a stitch marker.
- You’ve fallen below the lower reference point – grab a crochet hook and pull that stitch back up there.
- Not sure if your solution is the right size – grab your knitting needle gauge and see where it fits.
I’m sure similar things could be said about toolboxes; they will likely contain a measuring tape more frequently than my knitting bag does. I understand the functionality of a hammer and saw though wrenches are still a bit beyond my capacity. I’m sure there’s rationale of why there are so many freaking different kinds of screwdrivers that makes sense in someone’s world. I tell myself it’s like different kinds of needles though I remain skeptical. And while I will never dispute the multi-purpose functionality of a roll of duct tape, I truly believe that overall the tools in my knitting bag will be more applicable than those in any toolbox, real or metaphorical.
Now to convince fishermen…
* “Low hanging fruit” remains my all-time least favourite.
** That last one may have been me trying to fix a scrapbook.
“But Americans don’t own the fish in their oceans anymore, not really.”
Every now and then (not nearly often enough) I read a book and just think: “Yes. This.” It just speaks to you. “The Fish Market: Inside the Big-Money Battle for the Ocean and Your Dinner Plate” blew me away.
I get this book may not be for everyone, but for anyone involved in the fishery or fisheries management, I think it should be a must read. The book looks at the move to catch shares in the United States and the resulting privatization of most (if not all) of those fisheries. The fallout from that policy, both good and bad is examined.
My book is covered with hi-lighted passages; many that so closely mirrored the reasons the inshore fishery in Canada has been fighting to maintain the owner operator; things like family, and community, and sustainability, and fishing careers. It’s a topic that could easily have fallen into “dry and crunchy” but didn’t. Maybe (probably) it’s my passion on the issue, but the stories of coastal communities built by generations of families making their living on the water being destroyed by policy decisions resonated. There was also a look at the people who benefitted from from the change and how they maximized the changes to their advantage, because there are always winners and losers no matter what the decision.
Continue reading “This Little Fishy Went to Market”
The media was a buzz recently about a proposed ban for importing lobster to the European Union because North American lobster were found in the water off Sweden. Homarus americanus is native to the east coast of North America but is not found in Europe (good name then, right?) They are considered an invasive species and as such, there was concern about them taking over the habitat of native species. While scientists have indicated that the warmer waters of Europe will not support lobster reproduction, concern remains.
I get it; invasive species can reek havoc on an ecosystem and while lobster are a highly valued species is Canada and the Unites States, the cost of upsetting Mother Nature is much higher. Green crabs have reeked havoc on the east coast since arriving in the bilge of vessels 200 years ago. Even something innocuous like a goldfish can turn bad when it ends up somewhere it shouldn’t.
So, last week the European Union decided there was sufficient concern to warrant more study on a proposed ban. At stake for Canada and the United States: $200 Million US in exports to that market. It’s kind of a big deal. Lobster are shipped live, so by necessity a ban would shut down that market.
What I think needs a bigger review as part of the study is how the lobster arrived in the water off Sweden. This isn’t “Finding Nemo” meets “The Incredible Journey”.** Lobster aren’t hanging out in tanks, plotting their escape from evil
dentists fish mongers to the nearest ocean.
The most logical way lobsters found their way to the waters off Sweden? Someone(s) put them there. Every few months there are stories of people buying lobster and releasing them back to the ocean. While I realize the impact on an industry half a world away isn’t a primary concern of the EU, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on the cause (people who release them “back” into the wild) versus shutting down an industry. A quick google search on releasing lobster into the wild would leave you to believe most are looking for some type of public affirmation of their good deed. Like many of us, I’m guessing that the ripple effects of releasing a foreign species into the water wasn’t considered; the ocean is the ocean, right?
If this ban becomes reality, it could be catastrophic for the industry on both sides of the border. It would add to the mystique of lobster in Europe as nothing else could, much as Cuban cigars were so highly sought in the US during the embargo. I’m guessing lobster would be slightly more challenging to sneak through Customs…
** For what it’s worth, I think it would be a cool movie: “Look Bob, I think I the ocean’s just over this hill. Let’s ask that Golden Retriever for help.”