Nova Scotia

2 fishermen lose licences over 'controlling agreements'

​​Two Maritime fishermen have lost their fishing licences following a Department of Fisheries and Oceans investigation into the use of so-called controlling agreements in the past year.

Government cracking down on deals that flout rules to keep inshore fishery in local hands

Fisheries associations claim controlling agreements have become widespread, especially in parts of Nova Scotia. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Two Maritime fishermen have lost their fishing licences following a Department of Fisheries and Oceans investigation into the use of so-called controlling agreements in the past year.

They haven't released the names or location of the fishermen.

"We've concluded five cases. Of those cases, two were in agreements that were contrary to our policy," said Morley Knight, DFO's Maritimes regional manager.

The department said other licence reviews are ongoing as it ramps up efforts to combat controlling agreements — the side deals where a fisherman hands control and use of a licence to a third party, usually a company.

Trying to keep fishery in local hands

The agreements are seen as an end-run around policies to keep the inshore fishery in local hands, like the owner-operator policy that fishing licenses are held only by owner-operators, and fleet separation, which prevents companies from being both harvester and processor.

Fisheries associations claim controlling agreements have become widespread, especially in parts of Nova Scotia.

In an interview with CBC News, Christian Brun of the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation in Dieppe, N.B., estimated the number at between 10 to 15 per cent in southwest Nova Scotia.

DFO's top bureaucrat in the Maritimes said he heard similar claims from the associations, but it doesn't match his figures. 

"If it is the case, it is not borne out by the investigations that we've undertaken at this time," Knight told CBC News. "Either we haven't been investigating the right people or the numbers are exaggerated."

Terminating 700 controlling agreements

In 2007, DFO gave fishermen seven years to get out of controlling agreements. More than 700 were terminated in Atlantic Canada by the deadline.

The sole remaining controlling agreement — in Newfoundland Labrador —  is now the subject of a test court challenge currently before a federal court.

In 2015, DFO announced it would more aggressively police the policy.

It required fishermen to annually renew their licences and declare they are not in a controlling agreement. It also carried out spot audits and pursues suspicious activity around licences, like changes in the designated operator or multiple vessels assigned to a single licence.

Knight would not say how many licences have been reviewed overall.

"These reviews that we are doing are complex, they take a very long time, there's a lot at stake. The fishing enterprise and the licence that goes with it is at stake."

DFO does allow fishermen to encumber their licences for financing and supply arrangements.

"That wouldn't necessarily be a controlling agreement," he said.

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