Nova Scotia

Fisheries minister tries to calm industry fears

The Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans held a news conference in Ottawa Wednesday to calm fears about potential changes to the way Canada's fisheries are managed.

The federal minister of fisheries and oceans held a news conference in Ottawa Wednesday to calm fears about potential changes to the way Canada's fisheries are managed.

Keith Ashfield has been questioned about a discussion about how to change the fishery.

A review paper on modernization, released by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, has been a source of concern for fisheries groups, who are worried big fishing companies will no longer be kept out of the inshore fishery.

A coalition of 33 fisheries groups from Atlantic Canada and Quebec released a 25-page response to DFO's modernization document.

DFO's discussion paper makes no mention of policies known as owner-operator and fleet separation, used to prevent large companies from buying up and controlling inshore quota, licences and processing.

Fleet separation prevents a company from both catching and processing seafood, while the owner-operator policy requires the fishing licence-holder to catch the fish.

Fishing communities fear that changing these policies would make it possible for big companies to buy up and control inshore quota, licences and processing.

"We simply can't make things better by appeasing one segment of the fishery based on who makes the most noise," Ashfield said Wednesday.

Ashfield said he has no preconceived notions of what the future will look like but he said fisheries management has to change.

"We do know that our fishery is in a serious state. It has gone from second in the world in seafood exports and down to eighth place."

Ashfield said fishing is a valuable resource and something has to be done to keep the industry as productive as it can be.

"The facts are that more than half our fishermen are in their late fifties and our young people are deciding with their feet to get out of the business."

The federal government will accept feedback online on the modernization until March 14.       

Ashfield will meet with fishermen in Halifax on Friday.