BY ANDY WALKER
There is little one can argue with in the five year plan developed by the Department of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural development.
The task of developing a plan was begun by former P.E.I. fisheries minister Neil LeClair, who oversaw the department until he was defeated in the October election. The mantle now falls to Ron MacKinley, the dean of Island politicians and the new minister.
The last few years have been one of change for the department. It relocated from Charlottetown to Montague during the first term of the Robert Ghiz government. There was little rationale advanced for the move, except a desire by the government to show an immediate commitment to decentralization.
As well, the department expanded to encompass a “rural development” division— a key peg in a rural development plan. At least it has ensured the minister is busy. They usually take part in any announcement outside of Charlottetown or Summerside as proof the government’s rural development strategy is working.
It is easy to see the why fisheries was chosen to absorb the new section. Since fisheries regulation is largely a federal matter, the department is the smallest in government – both in term of budget and manpower.
The main goal for the “fisheries and marine” section under the five year plan is to “Enhance collaboration with fishers, processors and their organizations to improve the sustainability (economic, environmental and social) of the marine fishing industry.” That sounds like that should be the job of the department every day.
It also lists a series of “strategic actions” designed to bring that goal into reality. That list includes promoting the Future Fishers program, better communication between department staff and fishers, working with DFO to improve lobster sustainable and urging the industry to continue the move towards certification.
Again, there seems to be little new.
In the area of marketing, they promise more participation in trade shows and missions like the recent trip designed to expand lobster sales in China. The department also pledged to support quality management programs.
They have similar goals on the aquaculture side including work with the federal government to explore the expansion of aquaculture in Malpeque Bay and participate in dialogue regarding offshore aquaculture; a provincial fish health program including the appointment of a provincial fisheries veterinarian and help for producers combating invasive species.
While all of these initiatives are worthwhile and important, one key component that is missing is the willingness to at least look at the idea of a marketing board for lobsters. Similar systems have worked well in the agricultural sector and a marketing group was established for oysters a couple of years ago.
It would be naïve to think a marketing board would immediately lead to higher prices. However, it would give producers another vehicle to deal on a collective basis with buyers.
Liberal backbencher Charlie McGeoghegan has been promoting the idea since he entered the political arena in 2007. It is time his colleagues agreed to at least look at the idea.