Nova Scotia

Fisherman's legal challenge of inshore fishery rules back on

Labrador fisherman Kirby Elson says he's changed his mind again and will pursue his legal challenge of decades-old fisheries rules after all.

Kirby Elson said just last week he was withdrawing his challenge of DFO's ban on controlling agreements

The federal government's owner-operator policy stipulates the main benefits of inshore fishing licences must go to the licence holders. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

A Labrador fisherman who launched a legal challenge of rules for Atlantic Canada's inshore fishery only to back away from litigation last week has had another change of heart.

Lawyers for Kirby Elson have notified the Federal Court that he will be proceeding with his case, after all. 

Elson's legal challenge is widely seen as a test case for Canada's ban on controlling agreements in the inshore fishery.

Elson, of Cartwright, N.L., did not explain why he changed course in a letter to the Federal Court.

"I have reconsidered this matter and I have decided I wish to proceed. Please accept this letter as a retraction of my letter dated Jan. 10, 2017," Elson wrote in a Jan. 12 letter, which was made public Monday.

Test case

Elson is challenging the ban on controlling agreements by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The deals, reached between fishermen and companies, put control and the profits of licences in the hands of a company.

DFO considers the agreements an end run around its owner-operator policy which stipulates the principal benefits of the inshore fishing licences go to the licence holders.

Elson had openly refused to obey a DFO requirement that he exit a 2003 controlling agreement with two Newfoundland and Labrador fish processors. 

Court date Feb. 28

Under the arrangement, the companies financed Elson's snow crab licence, provided the boat and told him where to sell his fish.

Elson was the only Atlantic Canadian fishermen out of an estimated 700 with controlling agreements who refused to follow DFO's requirement by a 2014 deadline.

He is seeking a judicial review of a 2015 decision by the federal fisheries minister to take away his commercial fishing licences.

Elson is scheduled for a Feb. 28 hearing in Federal Court in Toronto.

Too poor to fish

In his previous court filings, Elson said he was too poor to afford to fish and his controlling agreement was the only way he could pursue his livelihood of 50 years.

CBC News has been unable to contact Elson.

His lawyers at McCarthy Tétrault, one of Canada's biggest law firms, have not responded to CBC inquiries.


Paul Withers


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.