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Canadian fishery science loses a rock star: Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings

The late Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings was one of three scientists who blew the whistle on political and bureaucratic interference with federal government fisheries science 25 years ago, which is worth noting today considering scientists with Fisheries and Oceans Newfoundland and Labrador have pretty much the same complaint.

Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings, an advocate for independent fisheries science, died over the weekend at the age of 63.

Dr. Hutchings, a long-time professor at Dalhousie University's department of biology was a scientific trailblazer, who called out scientists and federal government bureaucrats for fisheries mismanagement — particularly with northern cod.

In the 1997 report — Is Scientific Inquiry Incompatible with Government Information Control? — Hutchings and two other independent scientists wrote there's a clear and immediate need for Canadians to examine the role of bureaucrats and politicians in the management of the country's natural resources.

"The present framework of government departments such as the DFO is based on the belief that the conservation of natural resources is best ensured by science integrated within a political body," read the report. "Recent history would suggest otherwise."

The scientists advised that the country examine the formation of a politically independent organization of fisheries scientists.

In a study that same year of the role of science in fisheries management by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, Hutchings said when science is fully integrated within government, the potential exists for scientific information to be "unduly influenced by non-science factors."

"There are many reasons for this, but I'd like to focus upon one. Whenever a minister of the crown renders a decision, employees within that minister's department cannot be seen to embarrass the minister."

In March 2012, I served as NDP MP for St. John's South-Mount Pearl and introduced a private member's bill for an inquiry into the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery — which was supported publicly by Dr. Hutchings.

He said an inquiry was necessary to learn from the mistakes of the groundfish collapse so it never happens again, and to start the rebuilding process.

“Despite the collapse of northern cod and several other fish in the early 1990’s, these stocks still have no rebuilding plans, rebuilding timelines, or science-determined recovery targets,” Dr. Hutchings said. “While other cod fisheries, such as Norway’s, have seen tremendous rebound, most of the stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador remain at critically low levels.”

The bill for an inquiry was defeated by the then-government of Stephen Harper. .

DFO finally introduced a northern cod rebuilding plan in January 2021 — 29 years after the moratorium.

In December, 2021, the union representing scientists with DFO in Newfoundland and Labrador wrote a letter to the federal deputy minster in Ottawa to say DFO interference with scientific work is commonplace.

What happened to the Grand Banks was a crime against nature.

The fact that Ottawa waited so long to attempt to right the wrong is a crime against Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and the world.

Our sin, as a people, is apathy.

The passing of Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings is a great loss.

Ryan Cleary,


SEA-NL founding convention will be held virtually on Feb. 8th, 2021, and will be open to all owner-operator members in good standing. To join SEA-NL go here.

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