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 and Part 2 here.

Criticism aside, there is some useful material in the MOU. Cutting down the number of boats fishing is vital. Suggestions like pacing out landings over a longer period of time — so as to stretch out the work available to plant workers, as opposed to bunching it up in a short period — are useful.

But, the overarching problem with the MOU is that it’s a business solution to a social and environmental problem which, in some ways, has actually been caused by the way business markets operate.

The overarching problem with the MOU is that it’s a business solution to a social and environmental problem.

Barb Neis, principal researcher with the Community-University Research for Recovery Alliance, has been one of the voices pointing this out. As opposed to those who base their research on how to help the business owners, her group bases its research on how to help our communities. In an article in the Western Star, she noted the report was a “missed opportunity” because it “didn’t look at the relationship between the fishery and the communities affected by it.”

She made another good point: the MOU is largely about how to compete in international markets. She suggests that strategy hasn’t worked — “we’re tiny players in those global markets” – and we should look for other strategies.

Thinking outside the box

And they are out there. It’s time to think OUTSIDE the box. Here are my suggestions to get started:

1. If part of the problem is that the reduced, downsized scale of a ‘rationalized’ fishery makes it difficult for the corporate fishing merchants to compete internationally, then maybe we should take the fishery out of competition. What we need is to regroup and rebuild, in a sustainable fashion that keeps people in our communities.

Instead of battling our way into Korean or European markets, the fishery should be used to supply domestic markets, with government backing. A preferred purchasing plan which sees Newfoundland and Labrador seafood used to supply the Canadian military, the provincial schools and other institutions under government control would provide a sustainable market — with quotas — that we wouldn’t need to compete for by sacrificing our small boat fishers.

Instead of battling our way into Korean or European markets, the fishery should be used to supply domestic markets, with government backing.

Is this special treatment? You betcha. And it’s special treatment we deserve, as a beginning of compensation for federal mismanagement of our fisheries. Minister Jackman sounds like he would prefer government got out of fisheries, and let it run by itself — “like a business,” as he’s so fond of saying. That’s irresponsible. Government has special powers no other institution has and they should be wielded to the full extent of their ability, to support our people.

2. Reworking of unemployment benefits. Fisheries researchers need the ability to pull the plug on the fishery when they think it’s necessary — even mid-season. The instant they do, fishers should qualify for generous EI benefits. They are among the most courageous and hardest working people in our economy. They should not be the ones to suffer from the slow pace it will take to rebuild the industry Canada thoughtlessly ruined. There must also be generous compensation for those who leave the fishery.

3. Debt cancellation for our fishers. They put themselves — and their credit — on the line in the hopes of keeping their communities alive. They work harder in four weeks than any CEO works in four years. It’s not their fault the fisheries were mismanaged. It shouldn’t be their debt that gets called in.

Time to think big

4. We can start building pressure for a national public inquiry into Canada’s criminal mismanagement of the Atlantic fishery. Some are already calling for this. This isn’t just about passing the blame. It’s about holding Canada accountable for abusing its responsibility under the Terms of Union, about recognizing that the people of our outport communities are hapless victims of Canadian negligence and establishing that yes, Canada owes us.

This is not the time for provincial ministers to hide their heads in the sand, nor for opposition politicians to call for resignations. It’s not the time for our fishery unions to bargain for pay-outs that will lead to the demise of our outport communities. It’s not the time to throw half a billion dollars at wealthy plant-owners. It’s time for us to join together and demand action from a federal government that betrayed its fiduciary responsibilities to a nation that confederated with it in good faith, after robbing us of our resources.

This isn’t just about passing the blame. It’s about holding Canada accountable for abusing its responsibility under the Terms of Union, about recognizing that the people of our outport communities are hapless victims of Canadian negligence and establishing that yes, Canada owes us.

5. We can start building an effective maritime defense strategy aimed at eliminating international fishing in the North Atlantic, in order to protect and revitalize fish species. The federal government has already funneled billions of dollars into military spending — to send our soldiers to wage war in Afghanistan. I’m sorry, but for those of us who want to ensure a future in Newfoundland and Labrador, the real war is here and our fishing communities are on the front line.

We can take a page from Iceland and authorize fishing communities to patrol and protect the waters of the North Atlantic, cooperating with the Canadian navy. Forget spending billions of dollars to buy missiles to bomb Afghan villages — let’s put the money into paying our fishing communities to protect the waters we call home. Plus, it’ll provide them the employment the Canadian government has stolen from them.

Let’s establish aerial/satellite reconnaissance bases in outport communities, linked by high-tech telecommunications infrastructure and rapid-reaction naval teams (supported with locally-based search and rescue bases). The recon and patrol bases will help provide employment. The establishment of fishery research teams to support them will build on our already considerable reputation for technological innovation — and help grow our urban centres’ high-tech industries. The development of the telecommunications infrastructure will also help our businesses and tourism operators in the more remote parts of the island and Labrador. These measures will help if incidents occur in the offshore oil industry, too.

Guardians of the North Atlantic

Ocean reclamation is becoming vital not just to us, but to coastal communities around the world. We are the front line in the North Atlantic, and we can establish ourselves as the vanguard of what is starting to become a global effort to rebuild the health of our oceans and fisheries.

Now’s not the time to skimp on funding — now’s the time to pour it on: research labs, tracking and seizing vessels that dump bilgewater, technological development on cleanup/purification and wave energy, and fish stock regrowth. We can get a headstart that will position us as the guardians of the North Atlantic — a role Newfoundland and Labrador was destined for since humans first set foot here.

Above all, we’ll be tapping into — and retaining — the heritage of centuries of our rural communities’ ocean-going knowledge, and keeping that heritage alive, until the fisheries and the oceans are healthy again.

6. And if the federal government won’t cooperate with measures like these, then maybe it’s time to remind them that confederation was designed as a partnership which only works if both nations fulfill their sides of the bargain — and uphold the spirit of the commitments made in 1949.

We can get a headstart that will position us as the guardians of the North Atlantic — a role Newfoundland and Labrador was destined for since humans first set foot here.

We must not argue amongst ourselves, ignoring the fact that the problems in our fishery cannot and will not be resolved if we do not have the courage and united will to demand Canada be part of that process. Canada must not escape responsibility for the primary role it has played — and continues to play — in the ongoing ruination of our fisheries and the oceans which surround us. A court recently ordered Chevron to pay almost $10 billion to a group of small communities in Ecuador whose livelihoods have been ruined by its irresponsible actions in that country. What price should we demand from Canada for ruining the livelihoods of our communities?

The ocean is more than a resource for international market competition. It is our soul as a people: its call echoes through our histories, inspires every ounce of greatness we call our own and offers us a future if we have the courage to fight for it, and not give in.

EJ Pratt didn’t give in to despair. And neither should we.

Here the winds blow,
And here they die,
Not with that wild, exotic rage
That vainly sweeps untrodden shores,
But with familiar breath
Holding a partnership with life,
Resonant with the hopes of spring,
Pungent with the airs of harvest.

– EJ Pratt, ‘Newfoundland’