Nova Scotia

DFO cracks down on secret fishing licence deals

So-called controlling agreements allow individuals or corporations other than the licence holder to secretly control the use of the licence.

Non-compliant licence holders will not be able to renew their licences, says DFO

DFO will not reveal the results of its targeted licence review, claiming to do so could identify those under review. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans says it's cracking down on so-called "controlling agreements" that result in fishermen holding a fishing licence in name only.

Morley Knight, the department's manager for the Maritimes, said five licence-compliance reviews have been completed in the region and other cases are ongoing.

"These measures are being carried out across Atlantic Canada and are getting results," Knight said in an as-yet unpublished Nov. 23 letter to the editor sent to a Halifax media outlet and obtained by CBC News.

DFO confirmed the authorship and content of the letter.

Secret deals thwart independence 

Controlling agreements allow individuals or corporations other than the licence holder to secretly control the use of the licence. 

They allow companies to get around DFO's owner-operator policy, which is meant to ensure the independence of Atlantic Canada's inshore fishery.

DFO will not reveal the results of its targeted licence review, saying that could identify those under review. 

However, the department said results varied, meaning one or more licence holders were in violation.

Knight said the non-compliant licence holders will not be able to renew their licence.

Fisheries group surprised by low number 

Cape Breton lobster fisherman Kevin Squires says fisheries groups like the Maritime Fishermen's Union have been demanding more scrutiny for years.

"We are happy they are moving," said Squires, who serves as a local president with the union.

Squires said he was surprised by the outcome to date. 

"The numbers we're hearing of the cases they managed to find problems with is pretty small," said Squires, referring to the results of the review referenced in Knight's letter. "We are continuing to hear from southwest Nova (Scotia) in particular that companies are continuing to buy licenses."

Crackdown started under Harper

The previous federal Conservative government announced increased enforcement on controlling agreements in July 2015, just before the last federal election.

That review required inshore harvesters to declare their licence was free of a controlling agreement.

In the Nov. 23 letter to the editor, Knight was responding to a story suggesting foreign buyers were acquiring local lobster licences in southwest Nova Scotia. Knight said that's not allowed and the department is committed to preserving the independence of the fishery.

Policy needs to be put in law 

DFO set the ground rules for licences in 2007 when it established the Policy for Preserving the Independence of the Inshore Fleet in Canada's Atlantic Fisheries.

It aimed to preserve "owner-operator"status, which requires fishermen to own the boats that catch the fish, and "fleet separation," which states companies that catch seafood cannot process it.

Kevin Squires and fisheries groups are lobbying to have the policy enshrined as law under Canada's Fisheries Act.

"There would be a lot more teeth in the law," Squires said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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