It’s not often fishermen, environmentalists and processors sing from the same industry song sheet, but the early chorus seems supportive of amendments to the Fisheries Act tabled in the House of Commons this week.
Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is the toast of the town — quite a change from just a few weeks ago when inshore fishermen and processors were preparing for the worst.
It was LeBlanc who’d fuelled fears that pending amendments might have a dramatic, negative affect on inshore fishermen. In a speech last summer, he suggested that far-reaching changes to licensing rules were being considered, and questioned policies that offer “near-indefinite access to the fishery by virtue of automatic (licence) renewal.”
But wide-ranging amendments to the act effectively address concerns about environment, habitat, stocks and licences — and seem to have found the right balance.
Moves by the former Harper government to ease protections for stocks and habitat have been repealed. And Ottawa is providing almost $300 million to restore those protections, and adding new ones, including more fisheries officers, which addresses fishermen’s concerns that fewer inspectors and weaker enforcement posed a threat to the industry’s future.
In addition to the economic value of the industry, Ottawa is recognizing that fishing is culturally and socially important to Canada's coastal communities. Without a strong and vibrant inshore fishery, their future is at risk.
That recognition is long overdue.
The amendments confirm the primacy of the fleet separation policy which ensures corporations cannot be both harvester and processor. The new rules support inshore licence holders and make sure only a licence holder can use the permit.
Environmental changes are being hailed by the federal Green Party, which backed the bill’s emphasis on science and protection of fish habitats, leading towards a sustainable way of managing the fishery.
Atlantic fishermen were also quick in their applause. A P.E.I. spokesman said inshore fishermen are strong supporters of owner/operator and fleet separation policies which will soon be entrenched in federal legislation. A Cape Breton spokesman said the amendments will allow Atlantic Canadian fishermen to operate their own fishing enterprises, employ local crews and share the wealth in the coastal communities where they live and work.
Brett Favaro, a research scientist at Memorial University in St. John’s, said the new legislation was long overdue. He sees the inclusion of a public registry of department decisions as a big win for transparency.
The legislation gives government the power to introduce regulations to help rebuild depleted fish stocks or intervene quickly to protect those in peril — hopefully avoiding another fish species collapse, such as the catastrophic demise of the northern cod some 25 years ago.
LeBlanc has kept a promise to make the law better and more effective.
Fishermen and others in the industry deserve credit for their effective lobbying efforts.
For a change, DFO seems to be listening.