CANADA

STORMY WATERS

PLANT CLOSURES AND A HIGH-SEAS CHASE DRAW ATTENTION TO THE STRUGGLING ATLANTIC FISHERY

GLEN ALLEN December 25 1989
CANADA

STORMY WATERS

PLANT CLOSURES AND A HIGH-SEAS CHASE DRAW ATTENTION TO THE STRUGGLING ATLANTIC FISHERY

GLEN ALLEN December 25 1989

STORMY WATERS

CANADA

PLANT CLOSURES AND A HIGH-SEAS CHASE DRAW ATTENTION TO THE STRUGGLING ATLANTIC FISHERY

Coming just two weeks before Christmas, the grim news spread through the little eastern Nova Scotia community like wildfire. Gayle Richard, a clerk in Taylor’s Market on Canso’s Main Street, was at home when she learned of the Monday morning announcement by National Sea Products Ltd. that the company would close its fish plant—the town’s single industry—by April, 1990, because of declining profits and depleted fish stocks. Said Richard: “My girlfriend works in the cafeteria in the plant and she phoned me right away.” Canso High School, economics teacher Wayne Weir said that the report “filtered through the school” minutes after 9 a.m. Others heard it on the street. And the 1,300 townspeople seemed to share a similar reaction. “If the plant goes down, everybody goes down with it,” said Thomas Hanlon, 40, a father of three and one of the 742 plant workers who will lose his job.

But by week’s end, the decision by Canada’s largest fish company to cut a total of 1,500 jobs from the Canso plant and plants in North Sydney, N.S., and St. John’s, Nfld., was only

one of several problems affecting Atlantic Canada’s storm-tossed fishery. For one thing, a Canadian destroyer that was allegedly rammed by a U.S. scallop dragger poaching in Canadian waters twice fired warning shots while in hot pursuit of the American vessel. For another, President George Bush signed a bill banning the import of small lobsters from Canada, a move that will cost lobster fishermen in Atlantic Canada at least $20 million annually. Then,

the 12-country European Community (EC) revealed that, in 1990, it intends to take three times more fish from international waters off Newfoundland than recommended under quotas suggested by the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization, a 17-member international agency to which EC members belong. Said a senior Ottawa official involved in Atlantic Canadian issues: “It has been a very rough week.” Highlighting the fierce competition for decreasing fish stocks was last week’s dramatic encounter between the 365-foot Canadian destroyer HMCS Saguenay and the 115-foot Fairhaven, Mass., scallop dragger Concordia. On Monday, the Saguenay ordered the Concordia, one of 15 U.S. vessels recently spotted by Canadian surveillance aircraft in Canadian waters on the fish-rich Georges Bank, to come to a stop. Instead, skipper William Furey headed his vessel for U.S. waters. According to the Saguenay’s report, the scalloper struck the destroyer three times during the course of a 12-hour chase. Meanwhile, the crew of the destroyer fired one burst of small-arms fire and one round from its .50-calibre deck cannon

328 feet ahead of the Concordia’s bow.

Still, the Concordia refused to stop. It returned to its home port, where spokesmen for the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service said its actions would be investigated. If found guilty of bringing an illegal catch into the United States, the Concordia’s owners could be fined a maximum $11,600—a fraction of the maximum $750,000 fine prescribed under Canadian law. Meanwhile, state department officials minimized the incident. One official told Maclean’s that, given the “grand scope” of the relationship between Canada and the United States, “it shouldn’t be more than an irritant.”

But to others, the Georges Bank incident— and indeed the whole issue of U.S poaching— was clearly far more than a mere irritant. It took place at a time when Canadian fishermen

are already facing sharp reductions in fish quotas. The quota for northern cod, for one, the mainstay of the Atlantic fishing industry, will likely be lowered to 190,000 tons in 1990 from 235,000 tons this year. Said Hanlon: “That foreign trawler got clean away with it. It almost tells you that our government’s been bought by the Americans.” And Clifford Hood, a Yarmouth, N.S., lawyer who often deals in fishery-related issues, said that Canadian fisheries patrols may at some point have to shoot directly at U.S. poachers. Declared Hood: “There is a point at which you use your guns.” Concern over the incident extended to Ottawa, where officials sent a letter of protest to U.S. authorities. That was the first of two angry letters from Ottawa to Washington last week. The second: a letter from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney directly to Bush criticizing

a new law restricting Canadian lobster imports to the United States. Under the legislation, intended as a conservation measure to protect the U.S. East Coast lobster fishery, no live lobster can be sold in the United States if it is smaller than three inches in length, measured from the back of the head to the base of the tail. Canadian regulations allow lobsters to be harvested if they measure two inches. Said Rex Garrison, 69, a lobster fisherman in Sambro, N.S., near Halifax: “It has been the same size for years. Things are hard enough without this.”

Meanwhile, International Trade Minister John Crosbie said that Canada would challenge the law through the dispute-settlement mechanism of the Free Trade Agreement, under which disagreements can ultimately be re-

ferred to an arbitration panel. Indeed, Derek Burney, Canada’s ambassador in Washington, immediately initiated discussions with U.S. trade representatives on establishing a trade-dispute settlement panel on lobsters. But the government has no such mechanism—and little leverage—in dealing with EC nations fishing outside of Canada’s 200-mile limit. This year, the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization recommended a 15,000-ton target for the European fishing community in 1990. Instead, the EC last week proposed a quota of 50,000 tons. In Brussels last week, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark said that the EC is causing environmeng tal havoc by overfishing. % Clark did say he was gratified &lt that the EC had reduced its g quota from last year’s I 160,000 tons—EC fishermen actually landed less than half of that because of depleted stocks. But he told a news conference that “we have a long way to go.”

For Atlantic fisherman now awaiting expected cutbacks by a second major company, Fisheries Products International Ltd., Clark’s comments may have sounded like an understatement. Some of them say that only a major change in attitudes will save the fishery. Meanwhile, Mulroney pledged “broad and generous” assistance for displaced fish-plant workers, and Nova Scotia Premier John Buchanan attempted a last-minute rescue of the Canso plant. But it appeared at week’s end that there would be no pre-Christmas reprieve. And until the fish return, many communities, like Canso, that have been sustained for centuries by the bounty of the sea, clearly face a bleak future.

GLEN ALLEN

LISA VAN DUSEN

HILARY MACKENZIE

in Washington