Fisheries and Oceans recently told Patrick Pardy — a 70-year-old, 4th-generation fisherman from Terranceville on the Burin Peninsula — that his fishing licence cannot be passed on to his son, and will die with him. That's how far our commercial fisheries have fallen: DFO's management of groundfish stocks such as cod has been a monumental failure, but Ottawa continues to cut deep family and cultural roots to the fishery.
Seventy-year-old Patrick Pardy's groundfish licence is designated "non-core," meaning it can't be sold or transferred. Most license holders are also restricted in vessel length to 28 feet (a safety issue with climate change), and they're ineligible for federal funding to purchase fishing gear.
According to DFO's most recent stats, of the 3,202 inshore fishing enterprises in the province today (down almost 85% from 20,021 in 1992), 454 or almost 15% are "non-core."
That means the FFAW is destined to lose 15% more of the small-boat enterprises the union represents when those license holders pass away — unless DFO changes its policy.
The non-core issue should be front and centre during the upcoming FFAW election for a new secretary-treasurer — nominations are set to open from Aug. 16-26th — and candidates should be asked to declare their support (or non support) for the issue.
Members can then vote accordingly, but the non-core fight will have to get political because the bureaucracy isn't moving.
In Patrick Pardy's case, he began fishing in his father's boat at age of 15, and spent years working on offshore trawlers before buying an inshore enterprise in 1991 — two years before the moratorium on south coast cod in fishing zone 3Ps.
Patrick appealed his non-core designation in the 1990s, but relied on the FFAW, which he accuses of not fighting for him hard enough.
Pardy wrote a letter this past May to federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray to formally request that his non-core status be lifted so he can transfer his license to his son.
In response, William McGillivray, head of DFO's NL region, wrote to say Patrick's non-core status "will not be reviewed further."
SEA-NL gathered 551 signatures on a petition to be presented to the House of Commons this coming fall to change the status of non-core groundfish licences so they can be sold or handed down.
With a moratorium on mackerel, and with herring now a bait fishery, Patrick only has a 14,000/lb cod quota to make a living.
"I am now 70 years old, and my health isn’t what it was, but I have no choice but to continue fishing until my license is changed to core, so I can pass it on to my son, who’s 44 years old now and an apprentice," Patrick wrote in his letter to DFO.
BACKGROUND ON NON-CORE
In 1996, DFO introduced the "non-core" groundfish license policy to reduce capacity in this province's inshore fleet after the collapse of the cod fisheries earlier that decade.
The idea originated from a '93 task force report by Richard Cashin — founding father of the FFAW — on incomes and adjustments in the Atlantic fishery.
Only the non-core policy unfairly targeted many fishermen who — despite having a historical attachment to the fishery — held other jobs, and did not/could not depend on the fishery as their primary or sole source of income.
Many worked on fishing boats whereby money from a fish sale was put in a single fisherman’s name, and so they couldn’t prove attachment to the fishery, with little support, financial or otherwise, to appeal their non-core designation.
Inshore harvesters don't have pension plans, and often use money from their sale of their licences to fund their retirement.
That can't happen with non-core licence holders, many of whom are aging and have deteriorating health, but continue to work despite the risks. (Non-core license holders can sell a lobster license if they hold one, but only under certain conditions.)
Those risks are amplified by the fact most fishing boats owned by non-core license holders are restricted in length to 28 feet at a time when the East Coast climate is becoming increasingly unpredictable in fisheries that extend later into the fall.
While DFO recently increased the maximum length of inshore fishing vessels in the province to 49’11, bringing them in line with the Maritimes, there was no change in vessel length to non-core license holders.
Non-core license holders in this province have been penalized in other ways, including disqualification from applying for funding under federal government programs like the Atlantic Fisheries Fund.
Similar to non-core groundfish licenses in this province, so-called category B lobster licenses in the Maritimes also can't be sold or handed down.
In December 2021 the federal court ordered the federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans to reconsider the status of those lobster licenses, a decision that DFO chose not to appeal.
Earlier this year SEA-NL asked the federal Minister to reconsider the status of non-core groundfish licenses in this province.
While more non-core groundfish licenses are permanently retired every year, all three cod fisheries adjacent to Newfoundland and Labrador are in the critical zone, with commercial fishing to be kept to a minimum.
2022 marks year 30 of the northern cod moratorium off eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, while a moratorium was declared in July on cod in the northern Gulf.
There had been rumours in early 2021 of another moratorium on 3Ps cod, but the quota was later set at 1,346 tonnes — half the year before. The 2022 quota was rolled over from last year.
Ryan Cleary, Executive Director, SEA-NL
To read more about SEA-NL, or to join the non-profit organization please visit sea-nl.ca