04 March 2016

The Walking Dead #nlpoli

In China in these days of hard economic times, none are hit so hard as the people who work in zombie industries.

These are industries that keep producing despite there being no market for the product.  Like coal.  Or cement.  Or iron.

In most cases, the government steps in with fresh credit or other supports to keep the plants going and keep workers employed rather than close them down.

We have the same kind of problem in Newfoundland and Labrador.  It’s called the fishing industry. And the usual suspects in the industry turned up at a public demonstration in St. John’s on Thursday to make the usual plea for government to keep propping things up despite the fact the industry needs to re-organize.

Shrimp stocks are in trouble.  The federal government should reduce the number of people who can fish the stocks. They have already proposed a quota of 14 million pounds of shrimp, about 10% of the quota seven years ago. 

The hunter/gatherers’ union,  Earle McCurdy,  Lana Payne and the rest of the same old crowd turned up at the rally in St. John’s on Thursday to spout the same old story. They want the government to prop up the industry.

That is not what they say.  Lana and her friends try to make the issue one of helping locals versus helping the foreigners.  It is the kind of anti-foreigner hysteria all sorts of half-assed politicians have used in the province for years and Payne can spew the anti-foreigner hatred as good as Ryan Cleary ever could.  No wonder they don't get along.  Too much alike.

Help the locals or help the foreigners.  Should be a no brainer, Payne said.  You’d have to have no brains to follow her advice.

Payne and the protesters want the federal government to get rid of its long-standing policy of cutting off people with less historical attachment to a fishery whenever they have to make cuts. In another place and another time, Payne and McCurdy and that crowd would be singing union hymns of praise to ideas like adjacency and historical attachment.

In this case, the inshore, small-boat fishermen are the ones last in to the shrimp fishery. So the hymns have a different tune and different words.  These fishermen got in after the cod stocks collapsed.  Before then,  most of these fishermen didn’t bother with shrimp.  And in the 25 years since the cod stocks collapsed the federal and provincial governments have encouraged them to get into shrimp.

There have been times before when the intense fishing looked like it was going to wreck the stocks. What makes the shrimp fishery so sad a tale is that before the cod collapse,  Fishery Products International had tried to reform the fish processing business.  They wanted to break the pattern of having a pile of plants that operated as stamp factories.  No more giving people just enough work to qualify for the dole.  So they built a plant that guaranteed 48 weeks of full-time employment by banking a portion of the shrimp landings during the season to process in the off-season.

Worked fine, too.  Lots of promise.  And then at the federal and provincial level,  the politicians started handing out shrimp quotas and shrimp licences all over the place. Pretty soon you had stamp factories all over the place, all in service of the old political lie to “save rural Newfoundland.”

What’s playing out across the province these days is not going to be worse than the cod moratorium. It is really just the cod moratorium working its way out now that the politicians have managed to exploit another sector of the fishing industry to the point of near-decimation.  They will go on doing it as long as there are votes to be had and as long as the fish hold out.

If the politicians in Ottawa and St. John’s give in to the politicians in Newfoundland, they will just be prolonging the agony for too many people who are working in what are little more than zombie businesses.

The whole thing is just crazy. So crazy in fact  that some people want to decimate the cod because – supposedly – cod are destroying the shrimp and crab stocks.  That sort of murderous hysteria used to be saved for seals.  Now cod, once the lifeblood of rural Newfoundland, have become the most vile things in the sea.

Of course, the real cause of the decline in crab and shrimp stocks is overfishing, mostly by domestic fishermen. The same thing happened to cod.  We could create a sustainable fishery in which the people working in it could make a decent living from the labour, not from government hand-outs. 

Instead, politicians like McCurdy and Payne and the members of the all-party committee of the House of Assembly just carry on with the same old ideas. They stand up in front of the crowds of people who suffer because of their bad ideas and tell them the same old lies about what caused the problem and how easy it would be to fix if only the government kept doing the same old things they have always done to keep the problem alive in the first place.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

When it comes to the fishery, we are insane.