Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield tried to reassure Nova Scotia's nervous inshore fishery Friday when he met with his regional counterparts to discuss the modernization of the commercial fishery.

Ashfield said Ottawa's upcoming modernization of the commercial fishery is not imminent.

But the fate of policies that have protected inshore fisheries from corporate takeover remains uncertain.

"I'm in listening mode. That's what I'll be doing for quite some time now to see where we should go in the course of time," Ashfield said.

His department has touched off widespread fears in coastal communities.


Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield was in Halifax Friday to discuss the modernization of the fisheries. (CBC)

Its discussion paper on modernizing the fishery omits policies that have protected inshore fisheries from corporate takeover, in particular the owner-operator policy, which requires a licence holder to catch the fish.

Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau said although that item wasn't on the agenda, they were able to address it.

"I think that we got the minister's attention and now it's up to the minister to evaluate how sincere we are on the issue and I'm going to emphasize again, he got the message, Belliveau said.

"This is important to Nova Scotians, this is important to Atlantic Canada and we need to take the time to make sure things are done right to protect the fishermen and our coastal communities."

Belliveau said his counterparts in Quebec and Newfoundland have made it clear they support Nova Scotia's position on the issue.

Fishermen's concerns

Vince Goreham, a lobster fisherman from Wood's Harbour, told CBC News he's surprised the issue isn't getting more attention.

"It tells me it's a done deal," Goreham said on the omission of the policies from the discussion paper.

He said he's surprised that MPs Gerald Keddy and Greg Kerr haven't spoken out on the issue.

"It's an issue that only concerns 2,000 or 3,000 people, but it's a big issue for coastal communities in Nova Scotia. It'll affect all of Nova Scotia, all fishermen and all small communities."

Goreham was so concerned he came to the airport hotel where the ministers were meeting Friday.


Lobster fisherman Vince Goreham says he's concerned about the future of the inshore fishery in coastal communities.

"The lobster fishery isn't enough to keep young people at home, but without the lobster fishery, there will be absolutely nothing to keep them home," he said.

He said the removal of owner-operator requirements will see the lobster fishery go the way of other fisheries.

"This past summer several boats went out, caught 30,000 pounds of swordfish. They had to buy the quota for $2 a pound. They had to sell to the guy they bought the quota from. He only paid $2.90. The crew made nothing absolutely nothing. The  guy with the quota walked away with $60,000."

Ashfield was asked directly by CBC News if the government would continue the owner-operator policy.

"We're looking at everything. That's my point. If I stifled debate by saying 'we're doing this, we're not doing that,' I wouldn't get honest feedback," Ashfield replied.

The deadline for input on modernizing the commercial fisheries expires next week.