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Enterprise owners to reveal 'informal, verbal, & handshake' agreements to unravel financial tangle

DFO has set out to ensure that inshore enterprise owners have complete control over their commercial fishing licenses (living up to the owner-operator principle, in other words), and is distributing a mandatory but random questionnaire to learn of any and all financial arrangements that may jeopardize that.

According to DFO's latest stats, there are 2,672 core fishing inshore enterprises in Newfoundland and Labrador — including 2,117 enterprises in the under 50' fleet, and 555 in the over 50' fleet. Southside of St. John's harbour at the start of crab season.

The three-page "eligibility assessment questionnaire" asks the license holder to disclose any and all financial agreements tied to commercial fishing licenses — including the involvement of any third-parties or co-signers.

Download a copy of the questionnaire at the end of this post.


Are you the only person making decisions for your fishing operations?

Do you hire your own crew?

Do you have a crew share agreement?

Do you decide where to fish?

Have you maintained complete control over the use of the licence(s) and the decisions made about the use of the licence(s) at all times?

Is there an inshore fishing family trust set up?

Do you have any other kind of arrangements with a person or other (e.g. corporation) impacting your fishing business?


A DFO letter accompanying the questionnaire asks the enterprise owner to provide written descriptions of agreements that are informal, verbal, or handshake in nature.

The questionnaire notes it is illegal under the federal Fisheries Act to make false or misleading questions, and the enterprise owners has 30 days to fill it out.

Failing to provide the information could result in the licence(s) not being renewed.

DFO notes that until the department signs off on the information requested and confirms eligibility, licenses will not be renewed and the holder won't be legally allowed to fish.

In recent years Ottawa has investigated foreign ownership in the country's offshore fisheries, which include 97 licences in Eastern Canada and the Arctic.

In May 2021 former FFAW President Keith Sullivan said the majority of some fishing fleets in this province are illegally owned by fish processing companies.

Download a copy of DFO's questionnaire here:

Eligibility Assessment Questionnaire for Inshore Independent Core Licence Holders
Download PDF • 192KB

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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