Getting on the Wagon

Guest contribution from Susanna D. Fuller, Marine Coordinator at Ecology Action Centre

About ten minutes into the panel discussion held at St. Mary’s University on October 18th on small-scale fisheries in Canada, I closed my computer and stopped taking notes. Panelists were asked to respond to how “Ottawa” could better support the more than 10,000 independent, owner operator fishermen in Atlantic Canada through national and international policy frameworks.

The words of Naseegh Jaffer, co-chair of the World Forum of Fishing Peoples, representing small-scale fishermen from Masifundise in South Africa, made me stop typing. His description of the commodification of fish, the replacement of livelihoods with corporate fishing models which includes widespread privatization of fisheries through Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs) or property-based catch shares, along with the similarities between fishermen in Atlantic Canada and in developing countries- and the need to bring humanity back into how we manage our last wild source of protein- reminded me that an important part of changing how we do things is to start listening.

Naseegh Jaffer co-chair of the World Forum of Fishing Peoples

Naseegh Jaffer, co-chair of the World Forum of Fishing Peoples

From the perspective of Ecology Action Centre, a small conservation organization in Atlantic Canada, where we have worked for two decades to bring awareness about destructive fishing practice  while celebrating the wonders of the marine environment (including local seafood) that can be protected by sustainable fisheries practices, Naseegh’s words started to settle in.  Many environmental organizations have touted privatization and “rights based management” as the answer to overfishing. Naseegh reminded me that those rights need to include human rights, rights to food, rights to being heard – not rights to ownership, rights to consolidation, rights to commodification.

Sherry Pictou from Bear River First Nation described her community’s struggle to obtain rights to a food fishery, the lack of voice they had in Canada and her finally finding a voice with the World Forum. Rick Simon, Director of Fisheries for the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs spoke of the importance of the Marshall decision to aboriginal communities in Atlantic Canada, particularly the fact that fisheries carried out by these communities benefit the entire community. He also referred to the difficulties in being forced into a corporate model of fisheries, and the conflicts that ensued with non-native fishermen.

Marc Allain, long time fisheries policy advocate, and a main orchestrator behind the organization of owner operator fleets in response to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans recent “Fisheries Modernization” plan, spoke powerfully on the falsehoods of the tragedy of the commons. The recent backing down of the Federal Fisheries Minister on removing the owner operator policy, and the historic “Movement” of independent fishermen from across Atlantic Canada show the roots of hope in redefining how fisheries, fishermen and fishing communities can begin a path to self-determination.

Ginny Boudreau, Manager of the Guysborough County Inshore Fishermen’s Association, and one of my personal heroines in the world of fisheries and marine conservation, clearly articulated her continued experience- and dismay- of being “forgotten” in every single one of the recent policies being put forward by the federal government.  How could 10,000 fishermen be forgotten?

Marc Allain, Ginny Boudreau, Naseegh Jaffer, Sherry Pictou and Tony Charles

Marc Allain, Ginny Boudreau, Naseegh Jaffer, Sherry Pictou and Tony Charles

Why should we care what Ottawa thinks about fishermen? For centuries, we’ve run our fisheries in a close-to feudal system, where fishermen are still beholden to a buyer and rarely set the price for or know where their catch is destined.  The move to privatization of a public resource through ITQs has served to silence not only the voice of fishermen but the voice of the public who should have a say in our public resource is managed. Fishermen and their families also bring in the majority of income to our coastal communities. If we care about Sheet Harbour, Canso, Clark’s Harbour- to name a few of the fisheries dependent communities in Nova Scotia- then we, the public need to start caring about our independent, owner operator fishermen.

Taking the time to listen was well worth it. “Ottawa” should take the opportunity as well. Our oceans are under enough pressure as it is, but if we lose the fishermen, we lose our access to food security, we lose a public voice, and most importantly we are complicit in the corporatization of the one public resource we have. Clearly, the current large-scale industrial model of extracting food from our oceans is not doing the oceans, fish populations or coastal communities any good. Maybe it is time to get on the wagon, as suggested by Naseegh Jaffer. And that wagon just may have native and non-native fishermen standing together, with the people of Atlantic Canada cheering them on towards a new model of socially and environmentally responsible fisheries.

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