19 September 2011

The Damn-Fool Fisheries Policy

Yesterday’s man delivered yesterday’s ideas and claimed it was the future.

Liberal leader Kevin Aylward unveiled his party’s fisheries platform on Friday.  As a historical document, it would be wonderful for an election from 1975. But in 2011, the colourful pamphlet serves only to remind everyone just how far out of touch its authors are with the province and its people 20 years after the collapse of the cod stocks.

The central problem of the fishery today is that stocks have been decimated by decades of overfishing as a result of government policies that encouraged too many people to enter the fishery than it could sustain economically or environmentally without hundreds of millions annually in federal and provincial government subsidies.

The Liberal policy for the fishery of the future is to return to the very policies that led to its current sorry state in the first place.

One can scarcely imagine anything more stupid. 

Take the cod stocks, reduced to the point that by 1992 the federal government had to shut down the fishery that brought Europeans to this place 500 years ago.  There were no fish left, at least for any commercially viable industry.

The cod numbers – the biomass – are not appreciably larger in 2011 than it was in 1992.

Well, armed with that knowledge, the Liberals want to increase the total allowable catch for the endangered cod to more than double its current level.

There is not a shred of scientific evidence to back them up.


Common sense would tell you to stop fishing altogether.

The Liberals are having none of that sort of talk.

They want to double the current slaughter.

They are not content to let professionals get the last codfish from the sea. The Liberals want to widen the Damn Fool Fishery to boot. 

And to ensure they can find every last fish, the Liberals want to continue the current Tory policy of spending provincial cash on “fisheries science.”

On the surface, it sounds like a good idea – more knowledge is good – but if you look at the end purpose, you realise what the Liberals want to do. 

Conservation and sound management are not the objectives the people who wrote this policy had in mind.  If it was, they wouldn’t advocate resuming the cod slaughter. This is a plan to find the last fish so someone can split it and freeze it into a block for export with taxpayers footing the bill for most of it.

And when the fish are gone, they’ll be on the sea snails,  the sea cucumbers and the krill.

The Liberals want to set up $250 million for what would likely be a batch of make-work projects. They call it a Fisheries Investment and Diversification Fund but those are code words, to be sure. 

The “employment rebate” for processors is nothing more than committing taxpayers to cover the salaries of fish plant workers in businesses that would not survive economically without more government handouts.

Worst of all, the Liberals want to bring back the Fisheries Loan Board.

To understand the significance of this, you have to go back to the 1970s.  With the 200 mile limit in 1977 cam policies designed to increase the number people in the fishery.  Fish that used to be taken by foreigners were available only to Canadians once the 200 mile limit came into effect.

Both the federal and provincial governments abandoned plans to reform the fishery.  Instead they created policies to draw more people into the industry.  In 1976, there were 13,376 fishermen in the province.  By 1980 there were 33,640.  Total federal and provincial subsidies added up to about the same as the landed value of the catch.

The Fisheries Loan Board – provincial money for boats and gear – went from $12,488,000 in outstanding loans in 1976 to $43,796,000 in 1980.  Most of the money was never repaid.

But as far as the goal of getting more people into an already over-stressed industry, the FLB was a stunning success.

The Liberals even resurrect the old chestnuts of co-management and joint management.  And for good measure they repeat the asinine commitment to pay for federal jobs and add a new commitment to support Ryan Cleary’s quest to have taxpayers foot the bill for his education, a.k.a. the judicial inquiry into the fishery.

They don’t need an inquiry. Read anything by Memorial University economist William Shrank. He can tell what happened to the fish and why.  A 1995 article in Marine Policy, titled “Extended fisheries jurisdiction:  origin of the current crisis in Atlantic Canada’s fishery” is as good as any.

As for new ideas, the Liberal policy has none. 

There’s just a vague reference to making sure the aquaculture industry has government financial support and that the Liberals will make sure that projects don’t harm the environment.

To be fair to the Liberals, and to the architects of their policy like Beaton Tulk, the Tories and New Democrats are pushing variations on the same pathetic theme.

But for people looking for some solution to the problems plaguing the fishery and the people who depend on it today, the province’s three political parties have basically left them with nothing to look forward to.  What’s worse, if any of the political platforms make through to government policy, taxpayers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars of wasted spending.

We know it is wasted because none of the ideas will work.

We know they won’t work because they failed in the past.  Either that or,  as in the case of joint management, for example, they are solutions that might have helped 30 years ago or more.  But the problems they were supposed to fix simply don’t exist any more.

Today we face new problems created by the sorts of policies some people in the Liberal Party think are solutions to the problems those same policies created.

They couldn’t be any more wrong than they are.

On Friday, yesterday’s man delivered yesterday’s ideas and claimed it was the future.

He couldn’t have been any more wrong.

- srbp -