The federal government is giving the force of law to policies to prevent the corporate takeover of inshore fisheries in Atlantic Canada — delivering a victory long sought by fishermen’s associations in the region.
On Wednesday, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans published amended Atlantic Fishery regulations that include the so-called owner-operator and fleet-separation policies.
The owner-operator policy requires the eligible holder of a fishing licence to be the beneficiary of the licence, and fleet separation prevents processing companies and buyers from also holding fishing licences.
“It’s a great day for the inshore fishery and we’re super happy with the results of this announcement,” said Melanie Sonneberg with the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association in southern New Brunswick.
“We have had for years a policy in place in the department that has been ineffectual over time because it’s a policy, it’s not law, and it’s made it difficult for the department to enforce that.”
DFO admits policies were not working
In a statement accompanying the regulations, DFO said it acted because “policies remain subject to interpretation, are not legally enforceable, and are subject to exceptions.”
“It appears that ineligible third parties, in large part fish processors and buyers, continue to enter into agreements or arrangements that seek to assert control or influence over the inshore fishing sector and secure access to the fisheries resource,” DFO said.
Over the years, lawyers representing shore buyers — especially in southwest Nova Scotia — have designed various agreements that gave companies control over the licence and the catch. The fisherman remains the licence holder but the vessels are known at the wharves as “company boats.”
Company representatives argue they are merely trying to guarantee a supply of catch and fishermen voluntarily enter into these agreements.
It’s believed dozens of these controlling agreements are in place — primarily in the lobster fishery. DFO admits they have been “proliferating.”
How will DFO respond?
It is not clear yet how DFO will respond now that the policies to prevent these agreements have the teeth of regulation.
“It should arrest some of the more blatant workarounds,” Sonnenberg told CBC News.
“Perhaps the department will have the opportunity to have a good look at them and be able to use the regulations to bring some of this to a close, because it has gone unchecked. Some of the workarounds, we’re told, are legitimate. And I guess that’s where we’re going to get to see whether they are or they aren’t.”
The regulations allow some family members, inshore family fishing corporations and family trusts as eligible independent core licence holders.
Eligibility criteria will prevent the fisheries minister from issuing inshore licences to fishermen that have transferred the use or control of the rights and privileges conferred by the licence to fish to a third party.
“Today we’re delivering on our commitment to build a stronger, better and more resilient inshore fishery on the East Coast,” Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said in a statement.
“These regulations will benefit harvesters, their families and their communities for generations, by ensuring the economic benefits made by harvesters, stay with harvesters.”