Hans Rollmann is a regular columnist for TheIndependent.ca and in this 3-part series he looks at the Fishery MOU report and the future of our fisheries. If you’re just tuning in, you can read Part 1 here.

The Fishery MOU — a report commissioned to solve the latest problems facing our fishery — contains a lot of useful information, but suffers from five main problems.

First, it acknowledges there’s too many boats on the water, but suggests we cull mostly the smaller inshore ones, giving priority to bigger vessels. That’s taking a page from European fishery policy — a policy that’s led to the ruination of their fisheries and been criticized as a corporate sell-out of rural communities and coastal culture. There, small-boat advocates argue they have the best chance of building a localized sustainable industry, yet the quotas and licenses go to larger vessels deemed more capable of international competition. Canada already caved in to European pressure to give up many of its powers under international fishery (NAFO) treaties last year. Now it’s copycatting bad European fishery policy.

Second, the Fishery MOU doesn’t tell us a lot that we don’t know already. Actually, it doesn’t tell us a lot that we do know already, either. It fails to treat the collapse of our remaining fisheries — and the crisis that will result from thousands of jobs being lost — as the national emergency which it is, and instead goes out of its way to protect and hide the corporate data on which important decisions need to be based.

The Fishery MOU doesn’t tell us a lot that we don’t know already. Actually, it doesn’t tell us a lot that we do know already, either.

The people writing the report never even saw the corporate data they were analyzing (an accounting firm was commissioned to act as a confidential go-between, providing survey-based aggregate data). In a national crisis of this nature, all hands need to be on deck, sharing every bit of information they have in order to collectively chart a course out of this disaster.

The Economist magazine credits part of Iceland’s success in turning around its fishery crisis to the fact that all fisheries data in that country is publicly and easily accessible to everybody. This enables all parties to make quick and accurate decisions based on collective knowledge, without hiding information from each other. Over-the-top efforts to respect fiscal privacy are just another reflection of the sort of misguided corporate priorities which now have thousands — possibly tens of thousands — of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians facing unemployment.

The big picture

Third, the MOU also fails to look at the big picture. It acts as though the fishery operates like the computer technology industry. It doesn’t. In the computer technology industry, IBM doesn’t face the prospect of Apple sending teams of mercenaries to raid its warehouses of parts at night. The fishery does. It’s been said for decades: unless swift and decisive action is taken to control (and let’s be honest: to end) fishing by international fleets both in our own waters as well as the nose and tail of the Grand Banks, all the best recovery strategies in the world will continue to fail.

This is a big task, but it’s the only way to begin a turnaround. Iceland knows this: they did it. During the 1950s-1970s, when they took action to protect their fisheries, there were years when Britain had to deploy up to 53 warships to protect their fishing vessels from Icelandic fishers and coast guards (with less than a dozen small patrol vessels on their side) that attacked them.

The MOU also fails to look at the big picture. It acts as though the fishery operates like the computer technology industry. It doesn’t. In the computer technology industry, IBM doesn’t face the prospect of Apple sending teams of mercenaries to raid its warehouses of parts at night. The fishery does.

Canada’s high-profile seizure of a single Spanish vessel in the mid-1990s (which it subsequently paid $41,000 to return, along with its illegally caught fish) looks pretty wimpy in comparison. After years of clashes at sea, Iceland threatened to expel NATO bases — and that finally spooked their neighbours into grounding their fleets. Today, Iceland enjoys a roughly $2 billion fishing industry that employs over eight per cent of their population.

As long as Canada controls our fisheries, it’s unlikely we’ll see similar action. Indeed, while Iceland wasn’t afraid to violate international treaties or threaten military action, Canada won’t even take meaningful action to protest Europe’s seal ban — instead it’s proceeding full-speed ahead with negotiations for a Canada-Europe free trade treaty which will further reduce our control over our own resources. This, after agreeing to the NAFO amendments last year which eliminated Canada’s ability to impose control over our waters: surrendering sovereignty over our waters to European nations that have already gutted theirs. The livelihoods of thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have been sold off in exchange for improved market access for the bankers of Toronto and Montreal.

Weird science

Fourth, a new concern has arisen in regards to our ability to do decent fisheries science. It’s nothing new for fishers, industry and DFO to argue with each other. But the accuracy and scope of fisheries science is becoming increasingly precarious, for two reasons.

First, recent years have witnessed a dangerous scaling back of resources for DFO to do the research it needs to do if we are to salvage, preserve and rebuild our fisheries and oceans. Government mismanagement shredded the fisheries, and now government cutbacks are preventing our ability to figure out how to rebuild.

It’s nothing new for fishers, industry and DFO to argue with each other. But the accuracy and scope of fisheries science is becoming increasingly precarious.

Second, the federal Conservative government is increasingly facing accusations of interfering in science and manipulating or muzzling it for political, ideological ends. So, not only do we have less scientific data, but what we do have is being allegedly mangled or muzzled by the federal Conservatives. We need a major growth of scientific research capacity — based in Newfoundland and Labrador — with free rein for federal scientists to share their data openly. As The Economist noted above, good science being publicly available has been key to Iceland’s rebound. Just go to the Icelandic government website and you’ll see it all. Right there.

Fifth, and finally, the MOU was, as researcher Barb Neis put it, “a missed opportunity” to do what should have been done long ago — put our fishing communities back in charge of the fishery that is their birthright. But we’ll explore that — and recommendations to move forward — tomorrow.

Stay tuned for the final installment in this series Friday morning.