Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne stood in front of a collection of fish harvesters and processors from Newfoundland and Labrador, but the speech he gave Wednesday included a message meant for Ottawa.
He spoke to a gathering of the Groundfish Industry Development Council at the Comfort Inn in St. John’s, highlighting the adjacency principle applied to the province’s fisheries.
Later, walking through his points with The Telegram, he detailed why he believes adjacency needs and deserves to be explicitly written into the federal Fisheries Act.
The Fisheries Act is under review and, he said, his understanding is changes are being contemplated that would potentially direct the federal minister on resource allocation decisions, namely to include Indigenous interests, moving beyond prescribed treaty rights.
Byrne is in favour of that idea. But if they’re cracking open the act, he suggested another change should be made.
“Indigenous access and inclusion of Indigenous interests in fisheries management and fisheries allocations is a wise move. But with that said, there is a really strong and a really compelling case, since the (federal) minister’s authority will now be directed for the very first time — if indeed the federal government goes down this road and they amend the Fisheries Act to include a priority access for Indigenous communities … I am advocating that the minister and the federal government must also consider the inclusion of the adjacency principle in fisheries resource allocation decisions,” he said.
Consideration of adjacency is already talked about a lot, including in federal policy statements.
In 1996, as Byrne noted in defending his push, a parameter in the development of the federal policy on licensing for commercial fisheries in the Atlantic region stated adjacency to resource was to be “recognized as a priority factor for the issuance of new regular/exploratory licences and for the issuance of replacement licences.”
There was also the Department of Fisheries and Oceans “New Access Framework” in 2002. Another example highlighted by Byrne, it is applicable to federal decisions in cases where commercial fisheries have seen substantial increases in the resource, or in the landed value, in recent years.
“Priority of access should be granted to those who are closest to the fishery resource in question. The adjacency criterion is based on the explicit premise that those coastal fishing communities and fishers in closest proximity to a given fishery should gain the greatest benefit from it, and on the implicit assumption that access based on adjacency will promote values of local stewardship and local economic development,” it states, while also noting the idea of adjacency is not to be the only factor considered.
The provincial minister said he isn’t demanding adjacency be the sole consideration in decisions on quotas.
However, he suggested not having it explicitly included in the act — a statement on right to the resource — leaves it as a potentially weaker argument in the courts.
Taking a step back, he argued, the Government of Canada used the concept of adjacency in establishing its 200-mile exclusive economic zone offshore.
And given federal ministers have said they factor it into decisions, Byrne said, there’s no reason it could not be stated in the law as a guiding principle for decisions, alongside other considerations such as Indigenous access.