Fisheries and Oceans is (apparently) making electronic logbooks or ELOGS mandatory next year for all inshore enterprise owners (replacing traditional paper logbooks), but questions have been raised about the security of personal information and catch data that DFO is leaving to the private sector to answer. Once again, the inshore fleet deserves a hell of a lot better.
A tanker steams through The Narrows (the entrance to St. John's harbour) past fishing boats moored at the Fort Amherst (Prosser’s Rock) small-boat basin.
When ELOGS are eventually up and running, DFO will save a bundle from the expense of collecting/inputting information from paper logbooks, plus the department's finger will be on the fishery's pulse with up-to-the-minute catch data.
For as much of a case can be made for ELOGS to replace paper logbooks, DFO's communication about what's coming down the pike is as ridiculous as ever.
Enterprise owners are expected to absorb the full cost of the new technology.
The ELOG is essentially an application downloaded to your cellphone/computer/tablet that will cost between $60-$65 a year per species (depending on the provider), beginning with snow crab and lobster, but moving on to cod as early as this summer.
The expense may not be much to start, but it won't take long to add up as individual species are added to the ELOG list.
Some young owner-operators like the technology, and say it's the way to go — but no enterprise owners I know of are fond of yet another expense downloaded by the federal government.
DFO did not develop the technology itself, but farmed it out to third-party developers as a "tremendous opportunity" given there are 80,000 commercial fishing licenses across the country.
That "tremendous opportunity" also saves DFO money, and takes cash out of the pockets of enterprise owners.
(Who does DFO work for again?)
DFO has certified two companies — Jobel, a Quebec-based non-profit company owned by a fishermen's organization there, and Vericatch, a British Columbia-based private-sector company — to sell the applications.
Jobel's software application is for lobster only, while Vericatch's software is for lobster and snow crab.
While Jobel has been endorsed by the FFAW-Unifor, Vericatch's senior manager of business development is Robert Keenan, the union's former secretary-treasurer.
Keenan has been holding meetings around the province, and was in Gander last weekend to give a presentation to SEA-NL's AGM.
DFO was specifically asked to send a representative to speak on ELOGS, but the department declined, saying "the Region does not have any recent information."
A hell of a lot of enterprise owners are still not aware that ELOGS will be mandatory next year, and there's been backlash about cost, and that enterprise owners will have to absorb it alone.
Older enterprise owners in particular are also slow to accept new online technology, with many still having trouble navigating around DFO's national online licensing system or NOLS.
While DFO has said ELOGS will be mandatory in 2024 for certain species, a department official seemed to say last week during a virtual town hall meeting that the deadline may be extended.
Instead of taking questions head on, DFO has deflected them to third-party private companies.
Concern has also been expressed about the protection of personal information, and the sensitivity surrounding commercially valuable catch data for entire fleets.
SEA-NL has been presented with Memorandums of Understanding by both Jobel and Vericatch, but has yet to sign on with either.
To do so would be to accept the fact ELOGS will be mandatory next year, and that enterprise owners should swallow the entire cost.
No on both fronts.
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 sea-nl.ca to join.