$10M spent by N.B. government to expunge crab fishermen's loans
Documents obtained by Radio-Canada show only one of 17 borrowers paid back loans or loan guarantees
Documents obtained by Radio-Canada reveal that from 2000 to 2008, the New Brunswick government spent $10 million to erase the debts of 15 crab fishermen, amassed in the 1980s and 1990s as part of a lending program through the department of Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Fisheries.
The total amount forgiven was $10,769,225.
Seventeen crab fishermen received $15 million in public funds in the form of loans and loan guarantees for the construction of fishing boats.
We find it scandalous to have governments - four in a row- to have kept this from the public..- Christian Brun, Maritime Fishermen's Union
Fifteen weren't able to repay their loans. Several fishermen sold their boats, and three boats were seized by the province.
Only one fisherman was able to honour this loan guarantee, valued at $500,000.
One of the 17 loans, granted in 1984, is still outstanding. The original amount loaned by the New Brunswick government was $687,323 and has since climbed to $880,569 with interest.
Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Fisheries minister Rick Doucet has refused to divulge the names of the fishermen involved.
"The fisheries loan program was put in place to develop the fishery as a whole in New Brunswick, including lobster, snow crab, herring, shrimp and groundfish. Unfortunately, fishermen ran into difficulties," said Doucet in an email statement.
"As a government, we recognize that public money must be invested wisely. We make every effort to recoup the investment."
Jean St Cyr, former executive director of Fédération Régionale Acadienne des Pêcheurs Professionnels Inc. (FRAPP) isn't surprised by the news of the bailout.
"I was not surprised because there were old debts that were mainly due to the fact that it was an ill-conceived program. A program with good intentions, but from a financial point of view, didn't make any sense."
Many of the fishermen implicated, according to St Cyr, were never expected to pay back the expensive loans.
"When the boat was being built, the fisherman was paying interest while he wasn't earning any money on the boat. So when the boat finally was delivered to the fisherman and he could start earning his life with the boat, there was already arrears on the loan," said St Cyr
Maritime Fishermen's Union director Christian Brun believes the move by the provincial government is more than a cleanup of an ill-conceived lending program.
"We find it scandalous to have governments - four in a row - to have kept this from the public, who knew about the non-payments of some snow crab harvesters," he said.
"This has an enormous consequence on our in-shore harvesters that were also participants in the snow crab industry but got none of these loans."
Brun believes the millions of dollars unpaid by fishermen could have been used to improve working conditions for others in the industry.
"Hundreds of boats could have been modernized in our fleets - simple, smaller boats," he said.