Baker | Fisheries issues and stories rolling like caplin

There hasn't been a dull moment lately in the fishery, writes Fisheries Broadcast host Jamie Baker, who says he has been feeling like a traffic cop.
Fisheries Broadcast host Jamie Baker talks about some of the biggest stories in the province's fishery. (CBC)

Quite often when you sit down to hammer out a few words about the fishery, or any topic for that matter, it's sometimes tough to find a suitable topic.

However, these days it's a different matter entirely. I would hazard to guess that outside of the 2008 fish summit and MOU process, or the 2005 RMS war, there hasn't been a flurry of activity in the fishery like we've seen in the last month or so in many, many years.

At the Fisheries Broadcast, I feel less like a host or journalist and more like a traffic cop with all that's been coming at us.

For example, there's the myriad of issues around the huge and concerning free trade deal with Europe. The World Trade Organization upholding the seal product ban in Europe.

There's a $400 million pool of fish money in place. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) wants cod and redfish labelled endangered at a time when all the science says they're on the comeback.

It's been quite an intense period of time to be sure. Check out the podcast of last week's phone-in show touching on all the issues with former Broadcast hosts Jim Wellman and Jim Winter here.

So today, instead of singling out one issue and waxing poetic, as is my wont, I figured I'd kind of lay out a bit of a potpourri list.

Maybe we'll just call it fish bites (original, right?)

Seal ban

Was anybody really surprised that the World Trade Organization upheld the EU seal import ban? Firstly, by identifying that Europe is violating trade laws and not doing something about it, the WTO is now without any credibility whatsoever. But the fact that they came out and said the ban was being upheld on moral or ethical grounds absolutely screams hypocrisy.

Never mind all the ridiculous animal "slaughters" and hunts and industries in Europe that are equally and much more reprehensible than the seal harvest (foie gras, anyone?), there are other things to consider. (How's this for an off-the-wall question: Does Europe allow pornography to be imported/exported? Discuss amongst yourselves.)

The World Trade Organization upheld the European Union seal ban earlier this year. (CBC)

Barbara Swick is an international trade lawyer and she spoke with CBC's VikAdhopia about the WTO decision earlier in the week. She raised an excellent question: If the WTO can uphold a ban on seal products for ill-informed moral/ethical reasons, she says the same rationale could also be applied to "meat, sugary beverages, leather  farmed fish, wild fish, venison, plastic instead of renewable, steel instead of renewable, wood, etc."

Can of worms, meet WTO.

As long as those worms were harvested ethically though, right?

Government challenge

Anybody with two clues to rub together had to know the WTO was going to rule against the industry on the trade challenge. So the question again has to be asked, how do you negotiate a free trade deal with Europe and not even bring up a trade ban on seal products in the EU? We first revealed here at CBC a while back that the issue was never put on the table in any way, shape or form, but was instead left to the WTO.

Not to cast aspersions, but doesn't that make you wonder just how serious government really is about the industry? It's all well and good for them to be wearing seal skin ties and jackets and sending out press releases espousing their love for the industry, but when the chips are down, seems like nobody's got the guts to step forward and be counted.

Here's a WTO challenge Canada should launch against Europe: statistics from the EU show that they subsidize their fisheries to the tune of several billion dollars a year (compared to Canada where fish industry subsidization ranks around $75 million annually), making it decidedly more feasible for large foreign vessels to steam across the Atlantic to fish the nose and tail of the Grand Banks.

Liberal MP Gerry Byrne suggested recently that if Canada had challenged the unfair fisheries subsidization via CETA negotiations it could have meant an end to foreign overfishing. That might be a stretch but it's certainly an interesting discussion.

On the topic of fisheries subsidization, if you want to get a sense of what a problem it is, take a minute and read Looting the Seas II. It's a feature series done by a group of reporters with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

An interesting trend I've been noticing lately: whenever anyone questions the premier or fisheries minister about the potential downsides of removing minimum processing requirements for fish going into Europe, they have been deflecting the responsibility for the decision on to the industry and, in particular, the FFAW and its president Earle McCurdy.

In an interview with CBC's David Cochrane, the premier said that, "Earle McCurdy was key in his advice to us with what our negotiating position ought to be." On Nov. 20, under questioning from NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, Keith Hutchings said the industry and the union were consulted and that, "Industry supports it. The FFAW supports it."

Endangered status

Another story we broke on the Broadcast was COSEWIC wants to have Atlantic cod, redfish and American plaice designated as threatened/endangered under the Species at Risk Act.

DFO is currently carrying out a three step process — including public consultations, and a scientific and socio-economic assessment — to determine if that should be the case. Let me save you some time and worry: it's not going to happen. Sure the stocks are at historic lows.

But many of them, including cod and plaice, have shown excellent growth in the last few years (the COSEWIC assessments include upwards of 30-40 years of data as a whole).

Side note to the COSEWIC story: was I the only one left rolling my eyes when it was raised that the recreational fishery could be shut down if COSEWIC gets its way on cod? Are we really that myopic?

The cod fishery was worth about $8 million last year commercially, and the media and others with a voice in the public fore are focused on the so-called vote fishery … heavy sigh.

Look, I like catching a cod as well as anyone, but the first concern is, and always should be, the commercial fishery. That's the engine that drives rural communities, not some two week rod and reel extravaganza that pads the vote totals for political types. Egad.

In truth, when it comes to the recreational fishery and the commercial fishery, there's no way you can have one without the other. Period.

Fisheries fund

So suddenly there's a $400 million federal and provincial fisheries fund. But wasn't it just a couple of years ago that I heard former fish minister Clyde Jackman whizzing all over Dr. Tom Clift's report and telling people they were all off their heads if they ever thought the federal and provincial government was going to pay for the industry rationalization that was outlined in the MOU?

The price tag put on that rationalization plan? Pretty sure it was about $400 million.

By now, 110 folks should have the better part of their first year punched processing yellowtail at the OCI plant in fortune.

At the time of this writing, though, not a single yellowtail has gone through the doors. That said, we are hearing rumblings that situation could change before Christmas.

As with all things in the fishery, stay tuned.

About the Author

Jamie Baker


Jamie Baker hosts The Broadcast each weekday on CBC Radio.


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