Dear Minister LeBlanc,
I am a concerned citizen of a coastal community in Atlantic Canada. The inshore fishing sector is a bright spot in the economic fabric of Atlantic Canada and independent fish harvesters form the backbone of the rural middle class in my region. The economic capacity of rural, coastal Atlantic Canada and the strength of its rural middle class would not exist without the Owner Operator and Fleet Separation policies of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Both policies are not only economic pillars of the inshore fishery, they also support the social and cultural bedrock of rural, coastal communities in Atlantic Canada.
The Fleet Separation policy was established by DFO in 1979 with the explicit goals of reducing or eliminating the corporate concentration of fishing licenses, of ensuring that harvesting incomes were widely distributed, and of ensuring the long-term viability of rural communities. In 1989 the Owner Operator policy was created to strengthen the fleet separation policy and to eliminate resource rent.
Over the past 15 years, both policies have been neglected by DFO with little to no enforcement. The consequences of this neglect have been dire for communities across Atlantic Canada. Due to the improper financial involvement of processing companies, the cost of fishing licenses have been driven upward, making it financially difficult for harvesters to grow their enterprises while at the same time funneling the economic benefits of these licenses into corporations, some foreign. For young people, the increase in the cost of fishing licenses has left them almost completely excluded from ever becoming an independent fish harvester, which discourages them from the industry. The intrusion of corporate interests into the inshore fishery is now no longer kept secret – recently, brokers have begun to solicit interest from foreign entities in acquiring control of Atlantic Canadian lobster licenses.
The growth in corporate involvement in inshore fish licenses has come as the value of the fishing industry has soared. The landed value of fish products has increased 67 percent between 2010 and 2014. This increased value should primarily benefit the coastal, rural communities of Atlantic Canada – like mine. I fear that this is not the case.
During the 2015 federal election, your party made a commitment to enforce the Owner Operator and Fleet Separation policies, and to “ensure that any remaining controlling agreements are investigated thoroughly to bring to account any who may be undermining the principles of PIIFCAF”. To date, these efforts have been focused on administrative action. This has proven to be inadequate, highlighting the challenges of trying to enforce policy as opposed to legislation.
Your current commitment to seek legislative and regulatory protection for independent fish harvesters in the Fisheries Act is welcomed, and we reiterate how important this action is. It is critical that Fleet Separation and Owner Operator - the pillars of the independent fish harvesters - be both legislated and enforced. Each controlling agreement chips away not only the independence of our fleets but the futures of our communities.
Owner Operator and Fleet Separation must be legislated and enforced. The economic viability of my coastal community, and many others, depends on it.