NS: Fishermen predict 'utter chaos' with DFO changes

Tina Comeau
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The Vanguard

Fishermen will soon need email addresses, computers, printers and some level of computer literacy to carry out their livelihoods.

Five key changes to DFO services take effect January 2013. These deal with licenses, logbooks, gear tags/validation tags, at-sea observers and multi-year management. - Carla Allen photo

[YARMOUTH, NS] — Come January 2013, in addition to their bait, ropes, traps, buoys and boats, fishermen are going to need email addresses, computers, printers and some level of computer literacy to carry out their livelihoods.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans will be rolling out changes to how it delivers services on Jan. 1. The changes will see a lot of things being downloaded to the industry.

And this doesn’t just apply to any one sector of the fisheries or any one region. The changes to service delivery are being applied to every sector across the country all at once.

Fishermen who attended the recent annual general meeting of the Lobster Fishing Area 34 Management Board in Yarmouth were given a presentation by DFO on the changes.

The five key changes deal with licenses, logbooks, gear tags/validation tags, at-sea observers and multi-year management. For instance, many licensing centres across the country are closing and nationally the staff has been cut in half from 84 people to 42 with more focus being on delivering services online. DFO is also getting out of the business of producing and distributing tags and logbooks.

There was a lot of head shaking in the room and many questions. There was also a lot of concern and skepticism.

“This is going to be nothing but utter chaos,” said Dick Stewart of the Atlantic Herring Co-op. Even the presenter from DFO didn’t disagree with Stewart’s assessment.

“I’ve used the word chaos as well. It will be a challenge,” admitted Gus van Helvoort, executive director of DFO’s fisheries modernization initiatives.

Stewart said the government should not be applying its new service delivery all at once. And he said DFO is making big assumptions that everyone is computer savvy.

“For people not in an organization, they are going to have one hell of a time,” he said.

Van Helvoort said in an ideal world the department could have rolled out their changes differently. “But we’re in a very tight timeframe so we can’t do dress rehearsals,” he said.

When is comes to licenses, fishermen will be expected to, and be forced to, do more of this work online as opposed to in person. There will still be four licensing centres operating in the region to provide assistance, but when the staff person doing this job is sick or on vacation, there won’t be anyone to replace that person, van Helvoort cautioned. And staff may be busy with inquiries from other geographical locations.

The four licensing centre locations will be Yarmouth, Halifax and Sydney, all in Nova Scotia, and St. George, New Brunswick.

Van Helvoort said a large benefit of the online licensing focus for fishermen is they will now have access to their licensing information 24/7 via a secure website. For people who don’t feel comfortable on a computer, a fisherman could designate an alternate to assist them.

But fishermen will have to adjust to the changes, he said.

“We have said right from the get-go you will need to have an email address to go fishing next year,” van Helvoort said.

He noted in LFA 34, the country’s largest lobster fishery, fishermen won’t have to deal with the proposed licensing centre changes until the fall of 2013, since they will get their licenses this fall prior to the changes.

DFO will no longer be producing logbooks for fishermen. Instead there will be logbook templates that fishermen can download and print off from the Internet. Van Helvoort said DFO is even considering e-logs in the future.

As of Jan. 1, 2013, DFO will no longer be purchasing and distributing gear tags.

 “If an LFA decides they want to keep lobster tags, that’s your decision,” van Helvoort told the people at the management board meeting.

Many fishermen seemed dumbfounded by what they were hearing, wondering why tags would be a question of “if” since they aid in enforcement by allowing DFO officers to know who owns what gear in the water.

“How are you going to know if I’m fishing my traps or someone else’s?” asked fisherman Cory Nickerson. Van Helvoort, however, suggested the tags are more of an effort control mechanism than an enforcement tool.

Nickerson also asked what will fishermen do if their gear or tags are lost or damaged during the season. How will replacing these tags during a season work?

And, asked another person at the meeting, what if you have competing interests or organizations in an LFA? Who decides which group is responsible for tags?

There is one exception to the tag policy. DFO will still support the tuna tag system.

At the meeting there was also criticism of the department’s decision to no longer fund approximately half of at-sea observer coverage. It will be completely up to industry to foot the bill.

According to its website, DFO’s at-sea observer program involves the collection of detailed fisheries-related data on board Canadian and foreign vessels that aids DFO in areas of conservation and protection, fisheries management and science.

Dick Stewart said forcing industry to pick up the entire tab will create a financial hardship on vessels where they may only just be breaking even on a fishing trip. He suggested that if this program is going to be downloaded 100 per cent on industry, then the industry should be allowed to determine what constitutes the necessity for observer coverage.

Van Helvoort, in speaking about all of the changes that are on the horizon, said the rationale is that it makes sense for those who directly benefit from these services to be responsible for them.

“The rationale for transferring the costs is you’re the beneficiaries of this resource, you should be paying for it,” he said.

But in addition to modernizing the way services are delivered, van Helvoort also admitted that the changes are a reflection of the fiscal situation faced by DFO, which has seen its yearly budget reduced quite significantly by the government.

Not surprisingly, one of the first questions during the meeting was what is DFO doing with the roughly $1,900 that fishermen in LFA 34 are having to pay for their licenses each year. That money, the fishermen were told, goes to the receiver general and goes into the general revenue pot for government and not specifically to DFO.

“Why can’t you go get that money that we pay and put it into the fisheries?” said a fisherman. “I never once heard you say you’re going to lessen my license fee to help me pay for all of this.”

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Management Board, Atlantic Herring Co-op

Geographic location: YARMOUTH, Nova Scotia, Lobster Fishing Area Sydney

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Recent comments

  • peter saunders
    July 05, 2012 - 20:50

    i am a fisher and captain and think it is ridiculous that the fees we pay to dfo goes into general coffers this should de be changed now that we have to pay for everything

    • tom
      July 07, 2012 - 05:57

      Peter, the fishery is the only resource that they don't pay "stumpage" or access fee, other than licensing and costs associated with it . the resource belongs to the people of Canada, not the fishermen.