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DFO polled owner-operators only on vessel length, but boat registration question open to all hands

In 2022 DFO polled owner-operators exclusively about whether to increase the maximum inshore fishing vessel length to 49'11 (which most voted for), but the department intends to poll all hands (not just enterprise owners) this year on proposed changes to the vessel registration policy. Hard to get your head around.

DFO held an in-person/virtual meeting today in Deer Lake with stakeholders (owner-operators mostly) about policies related to fishing vessels, including registrations, buddy ups, the substitute-owner policy, and the length of boats allowed for non-core enterprises. Fishing boats of Port de Grave.

DFO says last year's poll on vessel length included only one question and was specific to the province, while the 2023 poll (find it here) on boat registration is broader, and the department wants more feedback.

Fair enough, but DFO got the message loud and clear that the opinion of owner-operators should be separate — and obviously given the most weight.

Each of DFO's five regions in eastern Canada has a different limit on how much time a fishing vessel must be registered before it can be registered to another license holder. DFO has raised the question whether there should be a uniform time line for the East Coast.

DFO should poll owner-operators about ALL major policy decisions, but then how would the FFAW override the wishes of its members?

As one harvester put it, "It’s not what industry wants if no one is listening to the fishermen."


Owner-operators are supposed to have complete control over their commercial fishing licenses, but that's not the reality.

On one hand, controlling agreements are illegal because they give a third-party (bank/buyer/processor) influence over a license and catch.

On the other hand, financial agreements are legal between a harvester and buyer, as long as they do NOT allow for control or influence over a license.

Good luck telling the difference.

When an owner-operator is not free to move between local buyers or to sell to outside-the-province buyers the end result is the same as a controlling agreement.

The owner-operator ends up under the processor's thumb.

That absence of freedom would be investigated if fish pricing were not excluded from the federal Competition Act.

I raised that point at today's meeting, but DFO said fish pricing is a provincial issue.

Completely over their head.


The below panel shows the areas where buddy ups are allowed.

The 4R (Gulf) otter trawl fleet has suffered massive quota cuts in recent years, and a corresponding drop in the number of boats in the fleet to under 30 from over 120, and owner-operators are most definitely hurting.

Buddying up may help them this season, and a proposal to that effect may be forwarded to DFO.


Most non-core enterprise owners (their fishing licenses can't be sold or transferred) are still restricted to boats less than 28 feet in length even though DFO raised the overall length of vessels in the inshore fleet to 49'll.

In response to DFO's question whether there should be a change in vessel length for non-core enterprises, SEA-NL takes the stand that of course there should be.

Non-core license holders are getting older (with deteriorating health), and many are forced to keep fishing in weather conditions that are worsening with climate change.

Not only should they be allowed to go to bigger boats, but DFO's policy should be changed so non-core licenses can be sold or handed down.

Safety should always be DFO's overriding factor, and it clearly is not.

DFO second and final meeting on vessel-related issues is set for March 23rd in Gander, with a virtual option for those who can't make it in person.

Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization that serves as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. Visit to join.

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