By Greg Bennett
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is defending its decision to grant a temporary license to an Arichat company to hire an Icelandic factory freezer trawler to catch and process 1,500 metric tons of redfish.
NDP MLA Sterling Belliveau recently expressed concerns about the DFO decision, saying that while he understands the need to support the company following Premium Seafood’s devastating fire this summer, he has strong reservations about giving a foreign vessel access to Canada’s coastal resources.
Although the general rule is that Canadian waters must be fished by Canadian vessels, Stefan Leslie, the DFO regional director of fisheries management, says at least 15 exemptions to that rule have been made over the last 10 years.
He said those past exemptions have been allowed only after the loss of a vessel. He did note that this situation is unusual because for the first time the exemption is being allowed due to the loss of a processing plant.
Leslie said the company had first sought a Canadian vessel to fish the quota, but was unsuccessful in finding a suitable available boat. He said a foreign vessel was only considered because time was a factor as the company’s redfish quota expires at the end of March.
The DFO representative also noted that the majority of crewmembers on the Icelandic vessel would have to be Canadian and he said the vessel would also have a Canadian fisheries observer on board.
Fish would be partially processed on board but would be returned to Nova Scotia for filleting.
Belliveau, the outgoing Nova Scotia fisheries minister, argued against the move.
“I think it sets a dangerous precedent,” said Belliveau. “I know there are boats tied up right now capable of harvesting that quota and there are other processing plants across the province that can process redfish. I appreciate the need to find a temporary solution to this issue, but people in the industry have serious concerns about the approach that was taken.”
He feels DFO should have been more transparent with harvesters and processors prior to taking this unprecedented step.
“Everyone I’ve talked to is asking why they found about this decision after the fact. Just over a year ago DFO was contemplating eliminating the owner operator and fleet separation policies without industry consultation, and as a result there is a strong sensitivity to this decision. Fish harvesters are worried this won’t be the last time DFO, under the Conservative government, allows a foreign vessel to operate in our coastal waters.”