It’s a rigid policy that, in the end, will benefit no one.
Lloyd Phillips is pulling away from the inshore fishery.
The Trinity Bay fisherman has already sold pretty well all of his commercial licences — crab, capelin, lobster — and is semi-retired.
There’s just one licence left to sell — his sea urchin licence.
And he has a buyer for it.
Two of his crew members would like to continue to fish for sea urchins in Smith’s Sound, near Phillips’ home in Aspen Brook.
The Chaulk brothers of Charlottetown already own their own sea urchin licence for Bonavista Bay. They’d like to keep fishing in Trinity Bay as well.
There’s just one thing standing in the way.
The home address associated with Phillips’ sea urchin licence is Random Island (a post office box associated with Clarenville, to be specific).
The Chaulks, however, have a Bonavista Bay mailbox
And under Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) regulations a licence — at least in the case of sea urchins — can only be held by someone with an address in that same fishing region.
There’s a ream of reasons behind DFO policies on licence ownership. In some cases, the rules are built on a certain amount of logic, and to ensure a licence does not fall into the hands of someone who doesn't actually fish.
In this particular case, however, the rules make absolutely no sense.
When the first licences were issued about a decade or so ago, they were exploratory, intended to test the waters on a sea urchin fishery.
Lloyd Phillips was one of the fishermen who obtained an exploratory licence — eventually labeled full-time commercial — and an important part of his fishing enterprise.
And he’s one of the last fishers to hold an urchin licence for Trinity Bay.
Phillips says with so much regulation around this particular fishery, there’s not a lot of people who bothered to get into it.
Sea urchins are collected by divers, and the season is in winter.
That means a myriad of provincial regulations around Occupational Health and Safety, regular medical tests and diving certification.
“And not everyone wants to cut a hole in the ice in the middle of winter to go diving,” he says.
Fact is, Phillips’ piece of paper that allows him to fish sea urchins is not of much interest to anyone, other than a fishing enterprise that is already geared up and has expertise in this fishery.
There’s not exactly a hoard of people beating a patch to Phillips’ front door.
The Chaulks are willing to buy his licence and continue to fish the urchins from Trinity Bay.
Unfortunately, DFO appears to have a ‘carved in stone’ set of rules.
In response to my query to the department on why the licence transfer could not take place, the official answer was, “The DFO reissuance policy states that a sea urchin licence, like most commercial licences, requires the recipient of a reissued licence to have a homeport in the fishing area of the licence. Our departmental officials thoroughly reviewed the request and as it was not consistent with current policy, the request was not granted.”
Lloyd Phillips has written to his union, the Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) and to the minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Hunter Tootoo.
No one has provided him with any indication that they will either lobby for his cause, or consider an exception to the rule in this case.
Time is running out for Phillips, and for the Chaulks.
If he doesn’t have his sea urchin licence transferred to another fisher by next March, it will become a worthless piece of paper. The DFO will simply cancel it.
Rather than being able to build their fishing enterprise with Phillips’ licence — a licence they’ve helped fish for the past several years — Dion Chaulk says he and his brother will lose, individually, about 25 percent of their income.
“It’s disheartening for us because we got used to making that money from his licence,” Chaulk said. “We fished with Lloyd for five or six years and figured we might be able to buy his licence when he decided to retire.”
All because of a postal address, two fishers will lose income and the rural economy will have lost in the ripple effect.
In this case, DFO rules have turned simple into complex, thrown common sense over the side.
Surely, given that there are exceptions to most rules, in this case it would make more sense for the DFO to bend a little.
Barbara Dean-Simmons lives in Trinity Bay. Her father was a fisher and she has been reporting on the fishery for 30 years.
Until next week, Over and Out.