PLANT CLOSURES, DEPLETED STOCKS AND REDUCED COD QUOTAS THREATEN THE FISHERY IN ATLANTIC CANADA
A DARK HORIZON
PLANT CLOSURES, DEPLETED STOCKS AND REDUCED COD QUOTAS THREATEN THE FISHERY IN ATLANTIC CANADA
For the impassioned townspeople of Grand Bank, Nfld., it was an exercise in heading off disaster. Anticipating an announcement that the giant fish
company Fisheries Products International Ltd. would close its plant in the Burin Peninsula community of 4,000, Mayor Rex Matthews, Town Manager Gene King and 200 other local residents piled into a convoy of school buses and cars at 5 a.m. last Thursday and drove the 360 km to St. John's. Once in the capital, carrying banners that read “Betrayed” and shouting threats of bloodshed if their major employer shut its doors, they paraded in front of FPl’s O’Leary Avenue headquarters and provincial government offices. Said Matthews: “The people are angry. We’re going to do what we have to to get our point across.” But their protest was in vain: the following day, FPI announced that newly reduced quotas for northern cod and other poor market conditions would force it to shut its Grand Bank plant, as well as plants in the small south-coast community of Gaultois and Trepassey on the Avalon
Peninsula, and take 13 trawlers out of service. Said Francis Corrigan, a teacher in Trepassey: “We’re looking at a slow death.”
There were glimmers of hope for the more than 1,300 workers in the three plants. At week’s end, Newfoundland Premier Clyde
Wells announced that the provincial government will subsidize the plants’ operations until well into 1991. And earlier in the week, federal Fisheries Minister Thomas Siddon, declaring the health of the Atlantic fishery a “national priority,” promised a multimillion-dollar compensation package for workers in distress. Still, the closures came less than a month after similar shutdowns affecting another 1,500
workers at three plants in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, operated by FPl’s main rival, Halifax-based National Sea Products Ltd. And the job losses themselves were just the most visible of the recent setbacks that have left clouds of gloom hanging over Canada’s frequently embattled Atlantic fishery.
Last week’s FPI shutdowns followed an announcement from Siddon that underscored the crisis affecting northern cod, the mainstay of the $2.2-billion East Coast fishery. Massive overfishing by the efficient, modem fleets from Canada and Europe have seriously depleted the once-bountiful stocks of cod on both sides of the 200mile limit off Canada’s east coast. Citing the need for conservation, Siddon announced a new reduction in the fish-
ery’s 1990 quota for cod—to 197,000 tons from last year’s 235,000 tons. Even that was a compromise in the fishing industry’s immediate favor: federal scientists had recommended even tougher quotas to help replenish stocks. But a furious union leader held Ottawa respon-
sible for the decline in stocks. Said Richard Cashin, president of the 23,000-member Fishermen, Food and Allied Workers Union in St. John’s: “It is all due to mismanagement.”
But the health of the Atlantic fishery is not entirely within Canada’s control. One vivid illustration of that fact came late last year, when the European Community decided to catch almost four times as many fish from international waters off Newfoundland this year as recommended by the co-operative body to which EC nations and Canada belong, the
Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. The United States had a negative impact, too, announcing new size restrictions on imported lobster last month that may cost Canadian lobster fishermen as much as $20 million a year. Then, last week, the U.S. Court of International Trade upheld a countervail duty of 5.8 per cent imposed four years ago on cod and halibut imports from Canada in retaliation for Canadian regional aid programs. By increasing the price of Canadian fish, that duty decreases its competitiveness on the U.S. market—to
which half of Atlantic Canada’s fish catch is exported. Said Nova Scotia NDP Leader Alexa McDonough: “This is very, very bad news, but not totally unanticipated.”
But even if it was anticipated, it seemed to some Atlantic Canadians that the cumulative barrage of blows was unusually cruel. Said International Trade Minister John Crosbie, who, as Newfoundland’s representative in the federal cabinet, is under fire from aggrieved constituents: “The fishermen and plant workers of Newfoundland have experienced many difficult periods, and none more difficult than now.” For his part, veteran fisherman Noble Smith of Clark’s Harbour, N.S., said, “I’ve seen down times before, but I don’t know if we can pull out of this one.” Smith, executive director of the South West Nova Long Line Association, an organization of fishermen who use lines and hooks instead of nets, has been involved in the fishery for 44 of his 59 years. He added, “It tears you apart to sit back and watch communities go.”
But the immediate problems would have been worse for Smith and other fishermen if Siddon had accepted the recommendations of some federal scientists and slashed northern cod quotas to 125,000 tons. And an interim report by a panel of experts that Siddon established last February had recommended a maximum quota of 190,000 tons. The chair-
man of that panel, Memorial University president Leslie Harris, said that the 197,000ton quota was “disappointing.” Added Harris on the difficulties of re-establishing the cod stocks: “We’re at the
edge of a cliff. Every hour, the chance of slipping over
gets greater.” But Siddon said that “social and human imperatives” justified the higher figure. Said Owen Myers, a former Newfoundland fisherman who is now a Halifax-based fisheries consultant: “It was a political compromise— and none too brave at that.”
Indeed, Siddon’s promise of priority attention to an imperilled industry that is the lifeblood of hundreds of coastal communities in the Atlantic region did little to appease his critics. But the federal government continued to insist that the fishery has been placed firmly on the national agenda. In Ottawa, a senior official with the external affairs department told Maclean’s that Ottawa would respond to the European nations’ overfishing just outside the 200mile limit by continuing “diplomatic initiatives” that “may be supplemented in some other way to make them realize that what they have done is not enough.” Although the EC’s 1990 target of 50,000 tons is lower than that of previous years, many observers said that it amounted to a slap in Canada’s face. Said Fred Morley, an economist with the Halifaxbased Atlantic Provinces Economic Council: “It’s as if you’re watching thieves ransack your house day after day and police say, ‘Well, they’re not taking as much as they used to.’ ” Even as Ottawa continued its battle with the EC, Siddon indicated that further measures aimed at saving the Atlantic fishery still lie ahead. Last week, the minister said he accepted “in principle” all 31 recommendations of a new, conservation-oriented management plan for the Scotia-
Fundy fishery region off Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The plan, presented last week by a task force led by Jean Haché, Atlantic regional
director for the federal fisheries department, proposed, among other things, tougher penalties for violators of Canada’s fishing laws, larger mesh in fishing nets and larger minimum fish sizes.
Meanwhile, tempers in Atlantic Canada continued to run high over an incident on Dec. 11, when the Canadian destroyer Saguenay approached the Concordia, a scallop trawler out of Fairhaven, Mass., in Canadian waters and ordered it to stop.
Instead, the Concordia fled into American waters, allegedly ramming the Saguenay three times during a 12-hour chase. Last week, Jeremy Conway, head of investigations in the fisheries department’s conservation and protection branch in Halifax, said that the Concordia’s captain,
William Furey, has been charged in Halifax with illegal
entry into Canadian waters, fishing in Canadian waters and failing to stop when ordered. Technically, those charges could result in fines
totalling $1.75 million. But Conway acknowledged that Furey, like 14 other owners of U.S. vessels facing similar Canadian charges, could
not be extradited from the United States. Still, he added that increased surveillance by both U.S. and Canadian authorities in the area that lies between Nova Scotia and Massachusetts seems to have had an effect. U.S. poaching in Canadian waters, said Conway, “appears to have fallen off.”
On another front, municipal leaders in Atlantic Canada began to address the social fallout from the fish-plant closures. In the Halifax-Dartmouth area, officials said that they were worried over the prospect of workers from coastal fishing communities suddenly arriving in the cities to seek new opportunities— placing pressure on municipal resources. Said Harold Crowell, director of social planning in Halifax: “It’s a concern. What is their choice? You either come to
Halifax or go to Toronto. And in Toronto, the rents are too high.” Many political leaders say that what is needed is diversification of the economies of stricken fishing communities. And another alternative under renewed consideration is diversification of the fishing industry. Robert Cook, director of the federal biological station at St. Andrew’s, N.B., said that fishfarming, in which species are hatched and raised in enclosed pens in local bays, “is one of the future options for rural communities.”
But the fledgling aquaculture industries on both coasts have been experiencing unanticipated difficulties. In the Fundy region of New Brunwick alone, fish-farming has become a $70-million-a-year business in just a decade. But the industry has been affected by severe winter weather and falling market prices—a problem that has also had an adverse effect on aquaculture in British Columbia (page 15). As a result, most experts in Atlantic Canada remain focused on the need to restore the traditional industry to health.
Still, some warned that ensuring the fishery’s future will require a major change of attitude towards the sea’s bounty. Raymond Côté, associate director of Dalhousie University’s environmental studies program, said that the prevailing attitude has been that “we would be able to catch fish forever.” Added Côté: “We can’t any longer look at the fishery as a milk cow. It is just not there anymore.” But it remained unclear whether communities in Atlantic Canada like Grand Bank, Nfld., can endure the social pain that will accompany the necessary adjustments.
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