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End of the line, what’s stopping inshore harvesters from owning their own enterprises?

Starving to death over the five years it takes to qualify for a commercial license is one obstacle, as is coming up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy your way in if you make it that far. If you find yourself in either boat or at all passionate about the challenges of breaking into the inshore fishery as an owner-operator, please contact SEA-NL as we attempt to organize the rising call for change.

Petty Harbour on a recent March afternoon. To reach SEA-NL e-mail

Depending on interest, SEA-NL plans to hold meetings in the coming weeks to hear from harvesters and the broader public about the qualifying criteria to own and operate an inshore enterprise.

The idea would be to measure the unrest, and give it a voice.

Entry into the inshore fishery is controlled by the Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board, which is run by the FFAW, and governed by provincial government legislation.

In January, Provincial Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg denied a SEA-NL request for an independent review of the board, and instead approved minor changes to the certification/renewal criteria that had been recommended by the Board itself.

Bragg did not consult with fishermen, which he also failed to do with last year's review of the province's fish price-setting system or the 2021 review of foreign ownership in the processing sector.

So SEA-NL will do just that.

The process of course work and at-sea fishing time to become a licensed inshore enterprise owner takes five consecutive years, and an applicant who works full time outside the fishery during that time is automatically disqualified.

Those five years are extremely hard, particularly on young people with familiars working aboard smaller enterprises with smaller crew shares.

Fishermen have complained for years that the certification criteria are too stringent, and that it is too difficult to pass on fishing licenses within families.

Another issue is the financing of an inshore enterprise, which can easily reach $500,000 on the northeast coast (boat/commercial licenses included).

According to the PFHCB, of the 4,921 Level II-certified fishermen in this province eligible as of Dec. 31st last year to purchase/operate inshore enterprises, 2,131 or 43% do not own one.

At the same time, between 1997 when the PFHCB was created and the most recent DFO stats for 2020 the number of licensed fishermen in the province dropped by 74% to 3,453 from 13,294

That number is destined to fall by another 15% as non-core license holders (whose licenses cannot be told or transferred) die off.

The saying in the early 1990s when commercial fisheries first failed was "too many boats chasing too few fish."

The question today is how many boats will be left if we continue on the same course?

Again, email your answer to

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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