Dean Penton is passionate about the fishery, and if it were up to him, others would be as well. “I would like everyone and anyone who participates in the fishery or who cares about rural Newfoundland, our culture, heritage and the future of our children, to hear (this important) message; the fishery is Newfoundland and Labrador's greatest renewable resource,” he says. According to Penton, taking care of something so valuable is not solely the responsibility of lawmakers either.
“Every Newfoundlander and Labradorian needs to stake their claim as a steward of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery and act on our rights by taking ownership of the resources“ he says.
Yet that hasn’t happened, not yet anyway. And it isn’t earth shattering news to hear that the fishery in this province is in trouble. Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Clyde Jackman recently release the results of a Fisheries MOU report that called for significant downsizing of the inshore fishing fleet and inshore enterprises. Though the report was rejected outright by Jackman, the questions that remain unanswered is; now what? And does anybody care?
With a Federal Election looming, The Herald wondered if the fishery was on the minds of candidates, and more importantly, voters, in this province. George Barrett is running for the Green Party in Labrador and he says the fishery is absolutely a huge concern. Many of the mega projects proposed for Labrador will have an impact on the fishery, he says. “Methyl Mercury poisoning (a concern for those living downstream from the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project) …will be harmful to the two communities who are on Lake Melville and Rigolet. Methyl Mercury poisoning will have a detrimental effect on the livelihood of those fishers,” he says.
Ryan Cleary is running for the New Democratic Party in the riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl. He says “absolutely,’ the fishery is on the minds of voters. “Everyone is concerned about the future of this province. What will life be like for us and our children after oil and gas? We have to prepare for the day after those high oil revenues dry up. What will our economy be based on then? If we don’t prepare our basic industry; the fishery, for that time, then we will have nothing once the oil is gone,” he says. Cleary talks of meeting one fisherman, a man named Paul Critch, whose 60-foot boat was tied up at Prosser’s Rock boat basin in St. John’s harbour. Critch, a 5th generation fisherman, had named his boat the Chelsea and Emily, after his two daughters. “He told me that after his second daughter was born his father said, ‘Thank God.’ Thank God she wasn’t a boy, because a grandson would have to go into the fishery. Let me tell you, as a father of two son’s myself, that breaks my heart,” he says.
Cleary says that even those who aren’t employed the fishery, those who are doing ’quite well, thank-you,’ care about the future of this provinces’ fishery. “Those who are doing well have the luxury of thinking about the future. They tell me our rural engine has sputtered, and they want to see it started up again,” he says. Cleary says an inquiry into the fishery is the answer, in fact, a commitment from the NDP to support such an inquiry was the only reason he agreed to run this time around. “An inquiry would take the bull by the horns, so to speak. It’s time for a change. It’s time to bring the fishery back, the fighting Newfoundlander in me says it’s time to revive the fishery.”
It seems the fishery is an issue all candidates are hearing about. Conservative candidate Fabian Manning, running in the riding of Avalon, says the fishey is on the minds of voters this election. “Strengthening the fishery is one of the main issues that I hear about as I go door to door. The fishery has served as a vital resource for the people of Avalon for centuries and having grown up in a fishing community myself, I share many of their concerns,” he says.
Manning says his political history includes taking a strong stance for the people in the fishing industry during the Raw Material Sharing (RMS) dispute. If elected, he says he would be committed to delivering on all of the issues that matter, including the fishery. “A re-elected Conservative Government will ensure that our fish harvesters get fair access in quota decisions and we have instituted tax measures to make enterprises more profitable. I am also committed to ensuring that the Small Craft Harbours in the riding are well maintained, the Conservative Party's policy platform includes an additional $40 million to do just that,” he says.
Of course, Manning also stresses that someone from this province needs to be sitting in the government caucus. That, he says, is the only way that any promise will be delivered upon. “Our voice needs to be heard,” he says.
“ On May 2nd, voters will have a clear choice between a strong, stable Conservative government or a reckless coalition led by Ignatieff’s Liberals, with the support of the NDP and the Bloc separatists,” he concludes.
Liberal Judy Foote is running for re-election in the riding of Random-Burin-St George’s. Since being elected in 2008, she has been vocal about the fishery and its importance to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. She often encountered questions regarding the state of the fishery on a daily basis.
“People are always talking about the fishery in Random-Burin-St. George's because the majority of the riding is comprised of fishing communities that settled along the coastline specifically to prosecute the fishery,” she says.
Foote says sometimes the lines between federal and provincial responsibility can be blurry, but she has always tackled any issue presented to her. “I hear all manner of concerns including those for which the federal government is responsible including total allowable catch, licensing of individual fishers, species size limits, fishing seasons, international enforcement of fishing limits and maintaining marine safety.”
There are 180 communities in Random-Burin-St. George's and Foote says knocking on that many doors is impossible in a 36 day campaign. Instead, she goes where people congregate; in stores, post offices, and especially on wharves. “This time of the year people are getting their lobster pots ready for the season so it is an opportunity to have a chat with them whenever you see them doing so. “
Foote says that at meetings designed for other purposes, she usually ends up with something fishery related on her ‘to do’ list. At a meeting regarding fireman one volunteer, who was also a fisherman, mentioned how the timing of the lobster season was an issue. “The experience was that the season was opening a week too early based on the catches of previous seasons,” she says. The request had gone into the Department of Fisheries and Oceans but the fishers had not heard back and the season was scheduled to open the following day. A response was needed as soon as possible. “A call was made on my behalf to the department to impress on those making the decision the importance of doing so quickly so the fishermen would know the decision one way or the other. The department made the right decision and the opening was postponed by a week,” she says.
The abundance of seals is another issue. In Francois, fishers complained about grey seals ‘popping up around their boats’ as they set their nets. Later, the fish would be gone from the nets, only the sculpins remained. “There is a real fear that unless there is something done about the increasing seal population the cod fishery will never rebound because there is no natural predator to keep the seal population in check.”
Bottom line; the fishery is always on the her radar.
“The fishery can and should remain the industry that is the backbone of the province's economy because it is a renewable resource and needs to treated with respect in order to remain viable.”
For Penton, any conversation about the fishery is a good conversation, even if it is ‘only’ politicians looking to get elected.
The fishery, he says, is a concern for all levels of government. But it’s also one the general population needs to focus on.
Penton, who is involved with the advocacy group Community Linkages, says that while he might currently live in Portugal Cove, he still holds the same values he had while growing up in Joe Batt’s Arm. Penton is currently having a trap skiff built so he can ’practice and promote his heritage.’ He also is the proud owner of a fishing stage he is rebuilding in his spare time. His grandfather was a fisherman and Penton says he’d go into the trade today if he thought he could earn a living at it.
That he and others can’t is a tragedy, he says. “The fishery and rural Newfoundland has always been sustainable, except when Canada got involved 62 years ago. Families used to have 12-14 children, all surviving on the cod fishery in isolated coastal communities. Today the regulations on the fisheries represent more of an annihilation of people and a genocide attack of our culture. Our fisheries should be open and free occupations, not the industry that Canada forces upon us; (the federal government‘s approach is) tightly regulated, unmanageable and unsustainable,” he says.
So what can be done? A return to old values would be a start, says Penton, values that foster the flourishing of rural communities.
“We need to honour the principles that shaped Newfoundland and Labrador as a nation, and minimize the obstructions that prevent us from participating in our cultural heritage at all levels. The massive scale of the encroachment of federal policies and regulations on our natural resources and our born rights to its benefits is undoubtedly something we all need to consider as inappropriate and unacceptable,” he says.
Penton says allowing some ‘self-regulation of the inshore fishery,’ is appropriate, as those fishers are the ones who have an intimate knowledge of the sea they fish. That knowledge makes them the best fish resources.
“As the primary stakeholders of our fishery resources, citizens need to come together and raise awareness on the issues and develop positive ways to address the barriers by playing a role in the success and access to the benefits of our great natural resource; the fishery.”
Penton believes sustainable fishery operations are possible. Cooperative fishery models, like the one on Fogo Island, can be successful. But there is more.
“We also need to request that our province demand the removal of the regulations and the title of recreational and food fishery, in support of the title and regulations for a ‘Heritage Fishery.‘ We need to request our province ensure that our right to fish in our coastal communities will not be licensed by Ottawa.”
So, this election is as good a time as any to think about the future of the fishery in this province, and, bottom line, we have something worth protecting for so many reasons, he says.
“Beyond the economic benefits, the fishery gives life to our rural communities, it is the fabric of our heritage. For over 500 years our province has relied upon the sea, and the people dependent on the fishery have a cultural and socio-economic right to its resources. it's not just a privilege. Harvesting (fishing) of our marine environment resources is our basic right, fundamental to the social, cultural and economic development well being of the people and rural communities of Newfoundland and Labrador; it is necessary for the development and maintenance of our life, values, health, economy, literature, language, arts, customs and traditions. Therefore we need to protect this relationship.”