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ENGO’s Only Serve Up Closures at the Fisheries Management Table

May 16, 2024

Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) are organizations that are not run by federal or provincial governments; therefore, they receive funds from private donors, corporations, and other institutions. With political backup, the funds issued by various parties inevitably influence the way their efforts and activities will be pursued to pressure for environmental protection – including fish stocks.

Driven by donations, and not by the complex socio-occupational infrastructure of ocean user-groups, stakeholder status should not be granted to ENGO’s at fisheries management tables. ENGOs have, since nature preservation organizations first emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, been formed in response to actual or perceived threats to wildlife or places of environmental value. They are the independent organizational expression of those concerns and a means by which to act upon them.

ENGO’s do not fully grasp the needs of the resource-dependent communities that are represented by key stakeholder groups in the industry, such as FFAW-Unifor, and this leads to adverse consequences. At fisheries management tables, ENGO’s advocate for the end of fishing, or recommending extremely low TAC levels that will have devastating socio-economic impacts to coastal communities. When ENGO’s take the stance that all commercial fishing should be at the lowest possible level, and in many recent examples, entirely closed, they are not meaningfully participating in resource management and industry development.

ENGO’s like Oceana Canada and Oceans North often take extreme stances – calling for complete closures to the capelin fishery, closures of the mackerel fishery, major reductions to the northern cod fishery and eliminating small stewardship fisheries like what should be established for 3Pn4R (Northern Gulf) cod. These stances simply do not line-up with the science that shows modest commercial fisheries for capelin and cod have little to no impact on the trajectory of those stocks. Of course, these fisheries have major impacts for fish harvesters, plant workers, and their communities. While Oceana has stated that their lobbying for fishery closures and reductions are to ensure prosperity for generations to come, those in coastal communities have made substantial investments in the fishery to do just that. Moreover, there are little to no alternatives for meaningful employment in these rural areas for a just transition. Lobbying for closures is inherently lobbying for the end of the municipal tax infrastructure that allows these communities to survive for the generations to come.    

DFO has their own science department, capable of providing fundamental scientific advice to the decision-makers. As a regulatory body, DFO has the responsibility of weighing the impacts of fisheries against the productivity of the stock, and to then determine quotas based on this information. Similarly, the fish harvesters at these tables present applied science in the form of experiential knowledge and at-sea observations.

The collapse of the northern cod stock over 30-years ago created the false perception of commercial fish harvesters: that they were uninformed, unprofessional, and wanted to take all of the ocean’s resources for short term financial gain. Every independent fishing enterprise is a small business on the water that demonstrates the complexities of business ownership and administration while, most importantly, actively practicing ocean stewardship. Sustainable fisheries ensure a balance between the marine ecosystem and stability of the industry. When we engage in matters of fisheries science, policies, markets, and innovation, we are engaged in community planning. This is beyond the scope of advocacy for ENGO’s who believe they should have the same recognition.

Fish harvesters today have made significant investments in their businesses, but economic growth is never at the expense of environmental and social concerns. More than ever, they contribute and participate in science surveys, assessments, and more. They are educated, highly skilled, experienced stewards of the ocean, and long-term sustainability is paramount to the continued value of their investment.

There is a time and place for ENGOs, and it’s not at the fisheries management table.