Nova Scotia

The mysterious cod tapes caper

Warren Gerard April 16 1979
Nova Scotia

The mysterious cod tapes caper

Warren Gerard April 16 1979

The mysterious cod tapes caper

Nova Scotia

It seemed a logical move earlier this year—although an unpopular one with the federal department of fisheries and oceans—when marine ecologist Patrick Lett and two colleagues set up a consulting firm in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, to do business with the Atlantic fisheries industry. All three, including Robert Mohn, a biomathematician, and William Marshall, a computer systems analyst, believed they were stagnating and were fed up with the “bureaucratic hassles” of their federal fishland jobs. They fled with an ill wind at their backs and took with them a unique expertise in the development

of fish-catch quotas, a controversial issue in the Maritimes.

Five weeks later, March 8, RCMP officers raided Dalhousie University’s computer centre and seized computer tapes, belonging to Marine Resource Analysts Ltd., the partners’ firm. The next evening the RCMP raided the trio’s Dartmouth offices and took four boxes of files, computer programs, prospective client lists and current project work.

The business came to a standstill. The Mounties also raided and seized records from a client, the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association.

Seeking the return of their property, the partners got a mixed ruling from Nova Scotia Chief Justice Gordon Cowan who last fortnight decided the warrant used by the RCMP to raid the university computer centre was illegal, but allowed the Mounties to keep the seized tapes for 90 days until early June—or, Lett and Co. feel, a safe time after the May 22 federal election.

The Mounties told Lett that they were looking for missing information from the fisheries department, but Lett insists none is lost. He does admit that the company had in its possession copied computer-stored information, but all of it was public and could be found through other sources.*

^Meanwhile, Maclean’s has learned that the federal government’s cod-fishing quota along the Scotian Shelf from Halifax to the Cabot Strait will be challenged during the election campaign. The fisheries department set the quota at 7,000 tons a year when, according to Maritime sources, it should have been 60,000 tons, which would mean a $ 122-million increase in fisheries profits for the area.

Lett and his colleagues (Lett had been with the federal department five years, Marshall two and Mohn 1 lh ) led a group of scientists that established the scientific basis for new quotas for the North Atlantic fishery after the boundary had been extended to 200 miles. Lett suspects that Fisheries Minister Roméo LeBlanc and Deputy Minister Don Tansley have tried to block formation of the company because of its expertise in establishing fish quotas. In fact, before they left the department, Tansley told the partners that he thought they were in conflict of interest, even though private and government lawyers said they weren’t. A department spokesmen told Maclean's he wouldn’t even bother to ask LeBlanc or Tansley for a comment on the issue because he knew what the answer would be—“no comment.”

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative MP Elmer MacKay says he is looking into the affair. “I think this whole matter has political overtones,” he says. “Their expert opinion on fish quotas could contradict government information. I think this is what it’s all about. But, certainly, something fishy is going on.” Warren Gerard