28 November 2005

The blame game, a lame game

Flip over to RGL and you'll see a lengthy commentary that backs Loyola Hearn's contention that the federal government, i.e. the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), is solely responsible for the collapse of the cod stocks and their failure to recover.

What Liam misses, or choses to ignore, is that the latest report from the Commons fisheries committee makes it clear that there is enough blame to go around for everyone in the fishery. It is misleading to adopt a narrow approach to the definition of "management" such that it ignores the political, social and economic context in which governments make decisions. That is, if we take a narrow approach, as Liam and Loyola do, then we are apt to repeat the same errors made in the past.

Liam may find it painful that the report actually does not support his own pet views. However, he cannot blame me for this by asserting that the fisheries committee's own conclusions, as quoted here already, are actually mine. The words I used are the words the committee used.

There is no small irony here that when DFO - actually politicians - make(s) bad decisions, as occurred in the 1980s and 1990s in response to political pressure, the federal government is pilloried. One example is the recreational fishery and limited commercial fishery that began in 1998. Then, when it makes good decisions - such as resisting the calls for a wider recreational fishery and wider commercial fishery, despite evidence that the fish stocks could not sustain the new fisheries - DFO is once again attacked for not responding to political pressure.

What the latest report also contains are some concrete proposals that would change the overall management system, which the committee calls dysfunctional. In other words, they identify the problem and propose a way to fix it or at least start to fix it. One such suggestion is the use of local fishermen's committees to work with DFO on setting quotas for certain species and in certain locales.

The success of this approach was noted in several previous posts. As usual, people seem to ignore good ideas in favour of playing the blame game.

And ultimately, the blame game is a fool's errand. Focusing on blame alone provides no guide to future action. Often, the solutions proposed merely repeat past errors or do nothing to make the substantive changes in fisheries management which the Commons committee clearly thinks are necessary.

This brings us back to the original post and comments by Loyola Hearn. The member for St. John's South-Mount Pearl may wish to blame the federal government for the cod collapse. If he does, then he should make it plain those are his conclusions. If he doesn't agree with the report, then he has the responsibility to table a dissenting opinion - supported by evidence.

The problem comes when Hearn tables a report that doesn't support his conclusions and makes comments to the media that are, at best, misleading. Then he is doing a disservice to everyone involved in the report and in the fishery.

And that was the point of the previous post.

It is a point that gets conveniently ignored by some, along with the mountains of clear evidence that demonstrate Hearn's ideas are not based on fact.