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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Working Without a Net

It seems that the story of Newfoundland and Labrador will forever be tied to the fishery. That's not a bad thing. The problem is the change in that story, and the action of the key players. As usual because I'm jumping into some commentary on the fishery I will clarify that I have never worked in or near the industry, and that I wish I had more time to research and learn more about it. For now I shall have to proceed based on what I know now, and thats all that any of us can do I suppose.

Two more fish plants have closed. The people of the Marystown and Port Union areas are devastated. Is there anyone out there who didn't see this coming at some point? Even the most cursory examination of the fishery in NL will reveal the basic facts.

  • We have had an over capacity for processing for many years. 
  • Many of the species stocks are still in poor shape.  
  • The companies who own the processing enterprises want to maximize profits. 
  • Governments at the Provincial and Federal level have backed away for any active management of the fishery for years. 
  • There are a raft of other much more complicated factors at play like: NAFO, Overfishing, trading international fish quotas, over and under regulation, and many many layers of political BS.  
The bottom line is that the industry has not evolved to meet the needs of the current marketplace or those engaged in the industry. Is it the fault of fishermen, governments, processors, politicians, bureaucrats? Yes. And then some. 

Unfortunately all of this means that the story has changed from "we make our living from the fishery" to "some of us kinda still make a living from the fishery" and it will become "we once made our living from the fishery." It is a heated and passionate story that is still being played out on radio talk shows and newspapers in NL. Unfortunately because it's a passionate issue and there are no easy solutions there is a whole lot of finger pointing. Two recent examples come from Geoff Meeker's Blog at the Telegram. One here and one here regarding the CBC radio program, the Fisheries Broadcast. The show is well know to the point that it's usually just called "The Broadcast." 

Over at The Sir Robert Bond Papers, Ed Hollett has been writing up a storm for a while on the ongoing issues and the ongoing BS in the industry. For a sampling of his efforts check out this link here. One thing is for sure, we won't figure it out by yelling at each other, or by turning communities against each other. 

So what's the point? The fishery is big, it's nasty and it isn't going to die a silent death. Many people in NL would be just delighted not to hear about the fishery any longer. But, they may not understand how it still plays an important roll in the lives of many people here. I think it can still be a thriving industry that offers serious employment to people. The question today is "Is the deal offered by OCI to keep the Fortune plant open year round worth the shipment of 80% of one species off to be processed in China?" 

It's a tuffy. If you work at the Fortune plant then you might say yes. If you're the FFAW you might say no. If you're Fishery Minister King, who knows what you'll say. 

There's no doubt that our current fishery structure is not working properly to provide both the product demanded by the market place and a living wage for people working in the industry. But can it really be cheaper to ship thousands of pounds of fish, thousands of miles away to processed, only to be shipped thousands of miles back to markets on our doorsteps? If the answer is yes then I guess we'd better get used to our fishery story changing to the point where we can maximize our benefit here while shipping the product to China for processing. Or make the whole industry one big co-op. 

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