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Historic Changes to Fisheries Act Will Safeguard Independent Owner Operator Fishery

April 9, 2018

This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 edition of the Union Forum, written by Jessica McCormick, FFAW Assistant to the President.

On February 26, Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, tabled proposed changes to the Fisheries Act in the House of Commons. The amendments are a culmination of years of concerted advocacy and lobbying by FFAW-Unifor and other fisheries organizations from across Canada. For inshore fish harvesters, the key component of the changes will be the enshrinement of the owner operator and fleet separation policies into regulation.

The combination of amendments, known as Bill C-68, are extensive and will have far-reaching changes on fisheries policy and the industry as a whole.

If the amendments are adopted as proposed, the new Fisheries Act will allow the Minister to make fisheries decisions with a consideration for the “preservation or promotion of the independence of license holders in commercial inshore fisheries” and “social, economic, and cultural factors.” Both considerations rebuff longstanding positions held by corporate interests, and clearly support the government’s efforts to end the use of controlling agreements in the fishery.

Additionally, these new amendments will empower the Minister to establish specific regulations to protect the fleet separation and owner-operator policies. Enacting these regulations is the next step in the legislative process to protect the owner-operator fleet in Atlantic Canada.

Including the owner operator and fleet separation provinces, the proposed amendments would:

  • Help ensure that the economic benefits of fishing remain with the license holders and their community by providing clear ability to enshrine current inshore fisheries policies into regulations;
  • Clarify and modernize enforcement powers to address emerging fisheries issues and to align with current provisions in other legislation.
  • Recognize that decisions can be guided by principles of sustainability, precaution and ecosystem management;
  • Promote restoration of degraded habitat and rebuilding of depleted fish stocks;
  • Allow for the better management of large and small projects impacting fish and fish habitat through a new permitting framework and codes of practice;

In addition to these proposals, Bill C-65 also makes changes to license conditions, requiring license holders to report interactions with marine mammals. The change will be implemented for all commercial and commercial communal licenses starting with any new licenses issued.

While there is certainly much to be celebrated in these proposed changes, particularly with respect to the protection of independent owner-operators, it must be noted that the amendments to the Fisheries Act are wide in scope. Careful attention must be given to each of these changes in order to determine how they will impact FFAW-Unifor members. Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to review the proposed amendments and see clarity and further information from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Bill C-65 will follow the standard legislative process. First reading took place on February 6 and second reading on February 13. Next, the Fisheries and Oceans Committee, chaired by Newfoundland and Labrador Member of Parliament Scott Simms, will examine the Bill and hold hearings to gather testimony and feedback from interested stakeholders. Once this process is completed, the Committee will report on the Bill and amendments will be considered and voted on by Parliament. Once the third reading of the Bill takes place and there is a debate and vote, the Bill will go through a similar process in the Senate before it receives Royal Assent and becomes law. While there is no guaranteed timeline, the entire process could take 18 months or more.

There will be ample opportunity for the public to provide feedback and input on the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act. Your Union will keep you up to date on the progress of the amendments and will notify you of opportunities to provide your feedback to government.

These changes to the Act are a result of decades of hard work and determination by fish harvesters but we can’t rest on our laurels. There is still a way to go before the amendments become law. Without a doubt, corporate interests will be lobbying hard to maintain controlling agreements that threaten the independence of our inshore fishery.

At every opportunity, we encourage you to send a strong message to your Member of Parliament that amendments to legislation that enshrine owner operator and fleet separation policies in regulation are vital to the sustainability of our coastal communities.