There was no shortage of issues to talk about when representatives of the PEI Fishermen’s Association met recently with members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural Development.
The list included the future of the fleet separation and owner operator policies, changes to fishermen’s Employment Insurance, allowing more herring seiners in the Gulf and what the Island has long regarded as a perpetual shafting when it comes to allocating snow crab quota.
There was a new one that seemed to come out of the blue and might be the most damaging yet – the idea of eliminating tags for lobster traps at a saving of seven cents a tag. Having a free-for-all fishery would negate every conservation measure taken in the last 50 years.
Essentially the three-member delegation was there for moral support. All of those issues are federal. There was a constant theme throughout the presentation, namely DFO has a lack of respect for the fishermen it is supposed to serve.
“Any direct meetings with DFO, they give us short notice,” said association president Michael McGeoghegan “We have to be ready at a minute’s notice.”
He said they were forced to scramble recently after receiving less than a day’s preparation for a meeting with Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield when he was in PEI this summer.
PEIFA executive director Ian MacPherson said a big part of the problem is there are few formal ways for industry to communicate with the department. He said that role was filled to some extent by the Fisheries Resources Conservation Council.
“Several members from PEI sat on (the council) for many years, but that has recently been disbanded,” he said “One of the things that our group and some other groups are lobbying for on a continual basis is to get some sort of situation set up, be it a committee, a task force or whatever, so that we can discuss these serious issues.”
MacPherson added the industry realizes change is needed and “the status quo isn’t working for anyone on an expanded scale,” but change can only happen through discussion.
He added, “It’s just bizarre on how the harvesting sector is treated by DFO in many circumstances. Two days for a major meeting over in Moncton – we’re staying on them. We’re not going to be treated like that anymore.”
If DFO wants the industry to shoulder more of the administrative and regulatory burden, the least it can do is treat the fishers with a measure of respect.
There has to be a formal mechanism that allows for meaningful two-way communication between the department and industry.