By Andy Walker
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
Keep the fleet separation and owner/operator policies intact.
That is the blunt message Island MLA’s have sent Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield by unanimously passing a resolution aimed at maintaining the status quo. The federal minster has signaled that both long-standing policies are on the table as part of an overall review of the Atlantic commercial fishery.
“We have to implore on the minister how important both these policies are for the survival of our fishing industry here on PEI,” said Belfast-Murray River MLA Charlie McGeoghegan, who was a fisherman before he entered the political arena. “It is the third biggest industry we have.”
That sentiment was echoed by Opposition Fisheries Critic Colin LaVie, who was also a fisherman before being elected last October. He added, “My father was a fisherman. Like many other Islanders around the province, I guess, you could say it’s a family business. The province’s fishery is rich with history and I’m proud to be a part of that. Indeed, fishers have been making a living by fishing the province’s waters for centuries now. Personally, I hope that continues for the next couple of centuries.”
Tracadie-Hillsborough Park MLA Buck Watts said, “On PEI we have 46 ports that are categorized as core harbours. In those 46 ports, we have about 1,250 fishermen, boat owners, private enterprise owners, private business people and private businesses. Just on the boats alone, besides those 1,250 people, you’re employing between 2,000 and 2,500 people.”
A former president of the PEI Fishermen’s Association, Watts added, “If those businesses are put out of business, it’s going to be terrible to see the coastal communities disappear. That’s exactly what will happen if this is allowed to go through.”
Opposition Leader Olive Crane said she has personally talked to Ashfield on the issue and he indicated neither policy was on the table. However, she supported the motion saying the province must keep up the pressure on the issue.
Charlottetown-Victoria Park MLA Richard Brown said it is important for the urban areas of the province for the fishery to prosper. He said corporate control devastated the cod fishery in Newfoundland in the 1970’s and 1980’s and there is every reason to believe the same thing would happen if corporations were given carte blanche in the Island inshore fishery.
“The issue of allowing fishermen or businesses to own more and more different boats and create their own fleet is very concerning to me,” said Tourism Minister Robert Henderson. He said there are four fishing ports in his western riding and “there is a good diversity of the fishing demographics there. There are older fishermen that are very seasoned and experienced and then there are some younger fishermen that were getting involved.”
He has also worked in the past as a designer for boat building companies and “if you’re allowing more and more fishermen to amalgamate, you’re maybe going to have less boats in the system, and there is the whole industry that supports that from the boat builders to the individuals who manufacture the engines to the gear and all that.”
Tignish-Palmer Road MLA Hal Perry added, “Our fishers are concerned that changes in the policy will allow large, possibly even foreign, companies to enter our areas and take over the inshore fisheries. They’re concerned that the corporations will spell the demise of the current licence holders and lead to an outright ownership of licences by fish processors and other
Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley spoke of a call he received from retired fisherman Allan MacDonald. The minister said the veteran fisherman told him his father was forced to sell his fish to the company store and he doesn’t want that to happen to the next generation of fisherman.
MacKinley said he has talked to his fellow fisheries ministers across the region and there is considerable support for the idea. He added “With all that, I think that the federal minister will listen to us.”