05 July 2010

And no fish swam

For an administration that has always been better known for delivering the sizzle rather than the steak, Premier Danny Williams’ announcement Friday of almost $14 million for fisheries research marks another achievement.

The announcement garnered swift editorial and political support. The Telegram gushed from the first sentence of Saturday’s editorial:

As a general rule, more information is better than less. And that's why the announcement that the province is getting into the fisheries research business in a big way is good news.

So too did the opposition leader, Yvonne Jones and fisheries critic Marshall Dean.  They think that the “funding allocation by the provincial government for fisheries science research is welcome news that should boost the industry’s chances to survive in the long-term.”

Even the language the Premier and the Opposition Leader used was similar.  As Williams put it:

No longer will we exclusively rely upon the research of others to guide the fishery into the future. Today, we once again take control of our destiny by investing in our own fisheries research and development.

Jones chimed in:

Clearly, one of the building blocks in this process [of rebuilding the fishery] has to be sound research that we can trust and use to make strategic management decisions in this industry.

All this is wonderful.  Memorial University and its Marine Institute get a bag of cash with which to hire some new graduate students and post-doctoral researchers.  Dr. George Rose gets a new job as the head of  something to be called the Centre for Fisheries Ecosystem Research.

Even the Irish government is happier after Friday.  The financially strapped country will get a bag of cash – the better part of half the total announced – to help operate its seven year old fisheries research vessel, the Celtic Explorer.

Friday’s announcement is three years overdue. The Progressive Conservative 2007 election platform included these commitments:

  • invest $5 million a year in the province's research and development Crown corporation and dedicate $1 million of this funding exclusively for oceans research, [and…]
  • provide $6 million for fishing industry research and developmental work over the next three years, which will include work associated with the development of new species, new products, new markets and new techniques to harvest, handle, process and market our marine fish resources.

The program announced on Friday seems to have less to do with genetic engineering [2007’s “development of new species”] or marketing and industry diversification as it does something else that does not appear to be defined beyond the notion that locally generated science might somehow be different from that produced by foreign infidels. The research vessel seems to be an idea cooked up on the spot by Danny Williams during the last provincial campaign.

Much about the announcement seems to be ill-defined.  The whole premise – that local scientists might discover some truths that others haven’t found or are hiding – is, itself, highly suspect.  Rose, for example, and other scientists at Memorial are quite knowledgeable about the fisheries ecosystem.  They and their predecessors have been studying the ocean and the creatures living in it for decades.

Perhaps that lack of definition is because the whole thing was hastily pulled together. It would appear that Friday’s announcement didn’t really exist until some six weeks ago. A month and a half ago, the provincial government was getting a political pounding for the latest in what has been a series of failures and fiascos.  The government has no fisheries policy worthy of the name;  that too has been painfully obvious from problems in some sectors of the fishery and the decidedly poor progress on the memorandum of understanding.

What better way might there be to get out of a raft of political sinkholes, one can imagine the Old Man thinking, than to change the channel.  Announce more cash for something  - it’s always about the money with these guys - and trot out the stuff that’s always worked before: the old pseudo-nationalist rhetoric. Never mind that the announcement will fall on a Friday smack in the middle of a holiday long weekend.

The one thing we know about this announcement is that it wasn’t about “[b]etter fisheries management through better fisheries science” and “an opportunity to improve and sustain this industry.”

The problem in the fishery today is the same as it was 18 years ago.  The problem is not a lack of knowledge, scientific (biological) or otherwise. The problem is a lack of political will to make decisions for a fishery that is both economically and environmentally sustainable.

Cod stocks collapsed because politicians opted to meet the demands of their constituents to keep fishing at unsustainably high levels when the scientists  - federally-funded scientists - said it would be a good idea to slow down or stop.  John Crosbie closed the fishery in 1992 because he had no choice.  There were no more fish.

And there never will be any more cod or any other fish stock for that matter as long as people disregard knowledge and make decisions based on unvarnished self-interest.  Whether it is the head of the hunters and gatherers union who wants to increase quotas on an endangered species (cod), to Open Line callers, or the blocheads who think cod jigging is some sort of racial entitlement or to the politicians  - federal and provincial  - who side with them daily, they all speak based on something other than sound, verifiable knowledge.

So spending $14 million won’t make a difference to that.

Spend $140 million.

Same result.

Heck, spend the entire anticipated cost of the non-existent Lower Churchill project - $14 billion – and you will still have the same calls for continued fishing.

Knowledge is not the problem in the fishery.

Impotence is.

And no amount of money, no army of scientists, no fleet of research vessels will ever find a little blue pill to cure that problem.

- srbp -

Update:  The dog whistling worked.