Last in, first out policy hurts local fish harvesters
Bonavista’s Fred Mifflin envisioned the inshore shrimp fishery as a way to save rural Newfoundland following the Cod Moratorium, when income was scarce and people were leaving the province in droves.
The investment fish harvesters put into the shrimp industry can run into the hundreds of thousands.
As MP for Trinity-Bonavista-Conception and the federal minister of fisheries from 1996 to 1999, he led the push to allow small-boat operators to fish shrimp in areas adjacent their communities. Offshore trawlers owned by large companies remained in the business as they had before the inshore fishery began.
“There was an abundance of shrimp at the time, and a need from the inshore small boats. We decided in conjunction with science to put an inshore shrimp fishery in place for small boats,” says Fred Cuff, who was Mifflin’s chief of staff while he was fisheries minister, and now lives in Elliston. “It meant survival and staying in their communities, and putting bread and butter on the table for their families.”
What Cuff doesn’t recall in the original 1997 agreement is any clause now known as “last in, first out”, or LIFO for short. LIFO gives advantage to offshore fleets when deciding changes to quota.
“LIFO was never a discussion to my knowledge. That was something brought it years later," says Cuff. “I do not recall ever seeing it as a part of the original announcement in April, 1997.”
LIFO played a role in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) decision to reduce the quota of inshore fishermen significantly more than those of offshore fleets this season. Of the 9,000-tonne reduction of shrimp quota this year, just 1,000 tonnes is coming from offshore quotas, the rest from inshore.
Harry Johnson fishes shrimp out of Catalina. It’s the only species he fishes, and he expects to lose 175,000 of his 500,000-pound quota this year, 35 per cent of the total.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do it,” he told The Packet “We had 100,000 (pounds) gone in Area 7, and probably another 75,000 in Area 6.”
Cuff says he remembers being concerned at the amount fishermen were investing in the shrimp fishery after a visit in the 1990s to a wharf in Harbour Grace, where harvesters were gearing up their boats.
“These small-boat fishermen had a tremendous amount of resource invested and if the resource failed … there’s times when DFO and the department, rightly so, based on scientific advice, have to cut the quota. That’s reasonable. You have to do that; otherwise there’d be no resource period,” says Cuff. “But I thought at the time that if there’s a cut to be made, everybody would feel the pain, not just the little guy.”
Cuff says that “any reasonable person” would distribute the cuts evenly between the offshore and inshore sectors, so neither would be overburdened with reduced quotas.
He suspects that the LIFO policy came into being when temporary permits to fish shrimp by inshore vessels became permanent licenses. Because LIFO was introduced later, it changed the rules inshore fishermen agreed to when they entered the fishery, investing tens of thousands of dollars.
Frank Coleman, PC leadership candidate and likely next premier of the province, also believes LIFO was never part of the original agreement, and that the decision to reduce inshore quotas damages rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
“A lot of decisions that are made at DFO that ignore things like the importance of decisions and how it affects community life in the province,” he told The Packet during an interview last week. “There’s something wrong when that type of decision favours one segment of the industry and not another.”
Back in Catalina, Johnson says he doesn’t know how he’ll do this year, fishing shrimp with a smaller quota.
“It’s not fair what they’re doing anyway,” he says. “The people who are close to the resource are getting put out for the big shots on the mainland and foreigners and everyone else.”