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‘We don’t wait’

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“We have this simple concept,” is how fisherman Tom Best launches into an idea he conceived to keep the N.L. fishery from the wayside.

“The whole idea is to try and encourage younger fishermen to come into a more valuable fishery.”

“It’s about providing an option for the Area 6C/8A Crab Fishing Fleet to cost share with the federal and provincial government — enough money to buy up four or five crab licenses a year as they become available in the combined area.”

Best, a crab fisherman and president of the Petty Harbour Fisherman’s Co-operative, says he’s waited long enough on government reports that promise and don’t deliver. The recent Memorandum Of Understanding is the last he’ll hold his breath for.

From what he’s seen, if anyone’s going to generate ideas to fix the state of fishery, it will be fishermen themselves.

With options

His own proposal is based on downsizing the industry, making licenses worthwhile again. It comes with options.

Tom Best

Once purchased by the crab committee using the cost-shared fund, the first three licenses would be retired out of the system altogether — rather than sold to the first private enterprise or processor interested. But the quota attached to the licenses would remain in the ocean, to be allocated among fishermen in the fleet.

Every fourth license to become available would be offered up for purchase to a level II license holder looking to get into the industry.

“The whole idea is to try and encourage younger fishermen to come into a more valuable fishery,” says Best. “If you retire out six licenses you spread around six more quotas to the existing license holders who remain.”

Best has suggested another option, as a method of conservation. If fishermen don’t want to reallocate the quotas that are made available through retired licenses: they don’t fish the quotas, and simply leave them in the water that given year.

“Say if three licenses went out, you’d have 90 thousand pounds of crab that wasn’t fished that’s left there to rebuild and refurbish the resource,” he explains.

One third, one third, one third

The crab committee for the area of Cape St. Francis to Trepassey represents 200 license holders. On average, four crab licenses per year are being sold between Area 6C and 8A.

“If they reallocate the quota they’ll earn that money back the same year they paid it.”

With the cost of a crab license in the 6C area currently selling at roughly $160,000, Best proposes the ideal cost share model would see the collective of crab fisherman paying a third, while both governing bodies pitch in the rest.

It’s still early days for the rationalization concept, and everything — numbers especially — are open to suggestion.

“If we were to get $1,000-$1,500 from the 123 fishermen in our fleet we’d have the equivalent of enough to purchase a license,” Best says. “If the provincial and federal government were to throw in the equivalent or better we’d have the amount of funding to purchase four or five licenses a year.”

“And if they reallocate the quota they’ll earn that money back the same year they paid it. Or if you decided not to fish as a conservation measure, then you’re getting it back in better quotas in following years.”

The fishermen’s cooperation

Several meetings were held in Petty Harbour before the crab season started this year, discussing the realty of the quotas and how the average age for fishermen in the area is in the mid-50s or higher.

NAFO Fishing Boundaries

Best presented the new rationalization concept at these meetings, and got the impression fishermen liked the idea. But he’s quick to state, “the only thing is, when you go to sell it officially, there’s a dollar tag associated with it.”

The 200 inshore crab license holders need to buy into the idea in order to make it work within the fleet. And Best is well aware they’re not going to sell [the idea] unless they push the positive aspects of it and what people are going to get out of it at the end of the day.

“We’re suggesting one third of the license holders in area 6C would still remain after ten years and that would be a cap number of license holders. Unless things got better and you could add more people,” he says.

“It’s to make things better for those who are left in and to make things better for those who might want to get involved in the fishery.”

Putting it to Politicians

During the month of April the crab committee shared their plan with politicians running in the federal election.

“Every one of them liked the concept,” Best claims. “Some of them didn’t get elected, some did.”

They haven’t officially met with anyone since.

“We’re giving the politicians who just got elected, time to get settled in. They have promised that they will make this a priority item as soon as they get settled in to their new roles.”

“We’re giving the politicians who just got elected, time to get settled in. They have promised that they will make this a priority item as soon as they get settled in to their new roles.”

Best says the provincial Minister of Fisheries has a copy of the proposal as well, but they haven’t yet received a response from him.

If this idea is given a chance, Best is optimistic the entire industry could grab onto it. But either way, they’re thinking forward, and taking pride in that fact alone.

“We don’t wait for people to do things for us around here. We usually take the initiative to go forward long before others have thought on concepts and ideas.”

They’re all small boat crab fishermen who work the same way on the water, and for that reason, it may be easier for Petty Harbour to introduce change than for places with more complex fisheries.

Still, Best would like to believe their aggression is due in part to their nature. And even though it’s small, change has got to start somewhere.

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