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David Vardy Takes Aim at NL MP's for Failure to Advocate for Provincial Input and Public Review in Commercial Northern Cod Decision

July 9, 2024

 David Vardy is Princeton-trained economist that has held a number of executive positions in the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial government, including Clerk of the Executive Council, president of the Marine Institute, deputy minister of Fisheries and chair of the Public Utilities Commission. He issued the following letter to 7 elected Newfoundland and Labrador Members of Parliament on July 7, with a lengthy list of cc’s that included DFO Minister Diane Lebouthillier, Senators, as well as senior officials in provincial government:

ATTENTION: Members of Parliament representing the province of Newfoundland and Labrador

On June 26 the Federal Fisheries Minister made an announcement of Biblical proportions. “The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard announced the end of the Northern cod moratorium off the north and east coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. This historic decision re-establishes a commercial Northern cod fishery in NAFO Divisions 2J3KL with a Canadian Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 18,000 tonnes for the 2024 season. The inshore fleet sector will receive approximately eighty-four percent of the TAC, with twenty percent of this inshore sector allocation provided to 2J-based harvesters and six percent of the TAC is allocated to the Canadian offshore fleet.”

The opening of the commercial fishery allows foreign fleets to fish again now that the moratorium is lifted. To quote the June 26 release again: “The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) previously established a measure to allocate five per cent of the overall TAC to other NAFO contracting parties when Canada re-opens its commercial Northern cod fishery. The Canadian TAC of 18,000t is considered 95 per cent of the overall TAC.

The Federal Fisheries Minister’s decision to allocate a share of the initial quota of 18,000 tonnes to the offshore sector flies in the face of a federal fisheries policy commitment made in the wake of the 1992 moratorium that the first 115,000 tonnes of a reopened northern cod fishery would be allocated to the inshore sector.” The door has now been opened to the offshore fleet and to foreign fishing trawlers.

The moratorium of 1992 was implemented quickly and painfully. I was deputy minister for the province on that fateful day, July 2, 1992. We have since had 32 years to put in place an orderly, measured approach to the reopening of the Northern cod fishery but yet the recent decision appears to have been taken in haste. The uncertainty in the science remains problematic and the implications for future fishing effort outside the Zone are troubling. We do not need to encourage fishing activity outside the EEZ. We have no effective mechanism to control foreign fishing outside 200 miles, despite the long and disappointing history of NAFO, and ICNAF before NAFO, which goes back to 1949.

The decision to reopen the Northern cod fishery is a fundamental decision on the future of the province, one which requires a broad hearing from citizenry at large and not a sudden announcement by the federal government. It demands provincial input and engagement by communities through an open public review. There was no advance warning to GNL in 1992 and I suspect the recent announcement also came as a surprise.

Our province brought the fishery resources and subsea mineral and petroleum resources of the continental to Canada when Canada joined us in 1949. We gained access to royalty revenues and a role in the management of oil and gas, even though the management role we negotiated in the Atlantic Accord of 1985 has since been eroded. Our province has no joint management role concerning the all-important Northern cod fishery. The recent announcement is at odds with stated federal policy on resource allocation.

The recent announcement should not have been made without a joint federal provincial review, conducted by an eminent independent group, such as the Task Force on Northern cod, ably chaired by the late Dr. Leslie Harris, former President of Memorial University. Dr. Harris recommended joint management, as did Dr. Richard Cashin, former MP and Leader of the FFAW. Attached to this letter is a list of 12 federal and provincial reports endorsing joint fisheries management.

In his Independent Review of the State of the Northern Cod Stock of February 1989,  Dr. Harris recommended (page 153) “That the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador should jointly establish a Board or Commission in the context of which information can be shared, management objectives clarified and coordinated, policy directions set, and strategies developed.”

The November 2005 “Report of the Chairman RMS Review Committee” chaired by Dr. Richard Cashin recommended “the Provincial Government seek a workable arrangement with the Federal Government for coordinated and joint management of the harvesting and processing sectors. This would be an arrangement where  the decision making powers of both governments are delegated to a single management authority. This authority should administer an agreed set of management policies.”

The October 2023 “Report of Fish Price-Setting Strategic Review Team” also recommended joint management. The ReviewTeam, chaired by Glenn Blackwood, former head of Memorial University’s Marine Institute, concluded that “much of the disruption in the industry through the current crisis was avoidable, however to avoid such outcomes, an independent fisheries management structure is required. Such a management structure was recommended in the past by Vardy and Dunne (2003) and by Cashin (2005). The review team concurs with their recommendation that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador seek a workable arrangement with the Federal Government for coordinated and joint management of the harvesting and processing sectors. This would be an arrangement where the decision-making powers of both governments be delegated to a single management authority. An authority similar to that utilized in the oil and gas sector.”

Joint management was also recommended by The Our Place in Canada, The 2003 Report of the Commission on the Renewal and Strengthening of Our Place in Canada (pages 111-112), Chaired by Dr. Victor L. Young, former CEO of Fishery Products International.

The Commission’s view is that institutional reform should be initiated whereby a determination of the policy framework for the conservation, management and development of the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries can be carried out jointly by the federal and provincial governments. In this regard, the Commission was influenced by the extensive research carried out on its behalf by David Vardy, Eric Dunne and George Rose.

 It is no longer acceptable for the federal government to make decisions so crucial to the province without a formal mechanism for meaningful input from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. During the course of finalizing our recommendations on the fishery, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador introduced a resolution into the House of Assembly seeking a formal amendment to the Terms of Union and released a White Paper entitled Joint Management of Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries. This resolution and paper seek amendments to the Terms of Union to provide for shared and equal constitutional authority between the federal parliament and the provincial legislature over fisheries adjacent to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. They also propose the negotiation and constitutional entrenchment of a new Joint Management Fisheries Board to manage fishery resources.

The Commission endorses a joint approach for fisheries management. Such an approach does not need a change in the Terms of Union and could follow a route similar to that which led to the establishment of the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board. There will have to be much discussion and consultation on the details of this approach, but the following three principles should apply to any new mechanisms:

The primary decisions regarding the annual setting of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC), the allocations of TACs and the regulation of the harvesting and processing sectors be made jointly by the federal and provincial governments.

  • Joint mechanisms be open, transparent and include full opportunity for stakeholder consultation.
  • The licensing of the harvesting and processing sectors be done on an integrated basis by an arm’s length regulatory body jointly appointed by the two governments.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador should reaffirm its commitment to the fishery and should ask the Government of Canada to suspend recent decisions to end the moratorium pending the report of a jointly appointed independent panel.

Furthermore, GNL should energetically implement the Young Royal Commission recommendation that:

Negotiations should begin as soon as possible to establish a Joint Management Fisheries Board.

The Premier has written to the Federal Minister to express his concerns over the announcement. At the same time, he has invited the Government of Canada to open discussions with the province on joint management. This is an important step toward better management of our most important industry.

As our Members of Parliament for this province you should reconsider your support for this decision and ask that it be rescinded and that an alternative approach as outlined herein be pursued. You should consult with the province to learn how best to support the development of a new approach to fisheries management, recognizing that past arrangements have failed abysmally.

I am requesting the courtesy of an acknowledgement that you have personally seen this email, as well as a reply.

I am copying all Senators, the federal and provincial fishery ministers, the President of the FFAW, senior fishing industry people, senior provincial public servants, along with past and former colleagues.

David Vardy

List (partial) of Reports Endorsing Joint Management (in chronological order)

  1. GNL. 1980 Managing All Our Resources: A Development Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador, 1980-85. St. John’s: Government of Newfoundland.
  1. House, Douglas, 1986, “Report of the Royal Commission on Employment and Unemployment”, prepared for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
  1. Harris, L. Dr. (Chairman), 1990.  Independent Review of the State of the Northern Cod Stock.  Final Report Prepared for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
  1. Maloney, Aidan, 1990, Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Alleged Erosion of the Newfoundland Fishery by Non-Newfoundland Interests, prepared for the Honourable Clyde K. Wells, Premier of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
  1. DFO.  1991, Fisheries Management: A Proposal for Reforming Licensing and Allocation Systems, DFO/4652, ISBN 0-662-19260-5. Ottawa, ON[i].
  1. GNL, 1991. Effective Fisheries Management: Joint Management and Government Cooperation in the Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery.  GNL Discussion Paper, St. John’s NL.
  1. Dean, Leslie, 2001 Report of the Special Panel on Corporate Concentration in the Newfoundland and Labrador Fishing Industry, prepared for the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
  1. Vardy, David and Eric Dunne, 2003, New Arrangements for Fisheries Management In Newfoundland And Labrador, A Report Prepared for the Royal Commission on the Renewal and Strengthening of Our Place in Canada.
  1. Young, Victor L, et al, 2003,  Our Place in Canada, The Report of the Commission on the Renewal and Strengthening of Our Place in Canada.
  1. GNL, May 26, 2003, White Paper on Joint Management of Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries[ii]
  1. Cashin, Richard, November 2005, Report of the Chairman RMS Review Committee, Report to GNL.
  1. Blackwood, Glenn, Gabe Gregory and William Broderick, October 2023 “Report of Fish Price-Setting Strategic Review Team”.

[i] This was part of a major reform initiated by DFO Minister John Crosbie and is the only federal proposal for joint management of which I am aware. “The new system calls for the establishment, through legislation, of two independent Boards, one for the Atlantic and one for the Pacific, that would license fishermen, allocate fish and apply sanctions. Panels of the Boards which could be organized along the lines of DFO regions in the Atlantic and by fish species on the Pacific, will make recommendations on allocations. The Boards would operate at arm’s length from the government and would take over responsibility for what are now ministerial decisions on licensing and allocation as well as decisions on violations that are now made by the courts. The Department and the Minister would still set fisheries policies, taking into account the principles in the legislation; applying this policy in individual decisions would be done by the Boards.”

[ii] This comprehensive document includes draft legislation “An Act Respecting Joint Management of The Fisheries Adjacent To The Province Of Newfoundland And Labrador”.