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‘Non-core fishing enterprises have been discriminated against for long enough’: MP Clifford Small

Those are encouraging words from central Newfoundland MP Clifford Small, who presented a petition in the House of Commons in Ottawa Thursday calling on DFO to change its policy on non-core fishing enterprises so they can be sold or passed on — instead of dying with the fisherman who hold them.

The federal government has 45 days to respond to the petition to change the non-core policy. According to DFO, there are 454 non-core enterprise owners in Newfoundland and Labrador, representing about 14% of the estimated 3,290 inshore enterprises.

SEA-NL already knows the Trudeau government's answer — no.

Which is unacceptable.

SEA-NL formally wrote federal Fisheries and Oceans Minster Joyce Murray in January to ask that DFO’s non-core policy be changed so that licenses can be sold or transferred.

She responded nine months later to deny the request.

Murray wrote that criteria to determine core from non-core were established in 1996 to identity skippers ("key licence holders," she called them), appeals were heard, and that's that.

She sees "no reason" to reconsider DFO policy.

She's wrong.

All owner-operators with a clear connection to the fishery should be able to sell their licenses or transfer them as they wish.

That power should not rest with Ottawa, and it is one of the ways this province must become master of its own destiny. (Don't get me started.)


The FFAW is destined to loose a big chunk of its membership once the 454 non-core license holders die off.

Throw in crew, and you're talking the loss of 1,000 dues-paying members.

But not a whisper from the union.

I wonder why?

Such topics aren't for public debate.

Certainly not during the FFAW's recent election for a new secretary-treasurer (won by the former west coast staffer at the centre of the scallop court case that the union lost to its members).

(I asked not to get me started.)


Inshore harvesters don't have pension plans, and use money from their sale of their licences to fund their retirement.

Only that can't happen with non-core licence holders, many of whom are getting older with deteriorating health, and continue to fish despite the risks. (They have to eat.)

Those risks are amplified by the fact that, for most, their non-core status restricts their boat length to 28 feet at a time when the East Coast climate is becoming increasingly unpredictable in fisheries that extend later into the fall.

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 properly appeal their non-core designation.

The federal court recently ordered the federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans to reconsider a decision not to allow certain lobster licenses in the Maritimes to be sold or handed down.


Of the 454 non-core enterprise owners, 342 hold groundfish licenses, and 101 hold a lobster license but not a groundfish license. Fifty non-core enterprise owners hold lobster and groundfish licenses.

Of the 342 non-core groundfish license holders, 194 were active in 2021, meaning they had at least one landing.

Of the 101 non-core lobster license holders, 90 of them reported catches in 2021, although there may be more if they fished and sold their catch by way of local sales.

It is possible for a non-core status fisherman to sell his non-core lobster license, but it is not possible for a non-core status fisherman to sell his groundfish license.

The department would consider requests to transfer lobster licenses only from non-core to an independent core fisher (as long as they didn't already hold a lobster license) in the same lobster fishing area.

Between 2017 and 2021, 19 non-core lobster licenses were reissued or transferred.

DFO policy is all over the map, and while the federal Liberals have dug in their heels on non-core, the fact Opposition MPs like Clifford Small are fighting back, and promising policy change should they win government, makes a case for that to happen.

Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization serving as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. You can read more about SEA-NL, and join us here.

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