top of page

‘Second-class’ fishermen, SEA-NL takes up the fight for non-core licence holders

Close to 50 non-core licence holders have contacted SEA-NL since Nov. 13th when we posed the question whether certain commercial fishing licences should die with fishermen? They say no, and want to fight for the right to either sell their non-core groundfish licences or pass them on within their families, which is allowed in Nova Scotia. SEA-NL has agreed to lead the charge with an advocacy campaign.

At the end of 2020, there were 492 non-core groundfish licence holders in the province, representing 15% of the overall 3,311 commercial fishing licences in Newfoundland and Labrador.

DFO's fisheries licensing policy for Newfoundland and Labrador states that non-core groundfish licences are not eligible for reissuance.

They may be renewed and fished by a substitute operator up to Dec. 31 of the year of death — but that's it, they die with the fishermen who hold them.

DFO brought in the non-core policy in the 1990s after the collapse of the commercial cod fisheries to reduce the number of fishermen — with the FFAW's apparent blessing.

The policy has been effective: the 3,311 licensed fishermen in the province at the end of 2020 (including 492 non-core) represented an 83% decline from 1992 when there were 20,021 licensed harvesters in the province, including 11,488 full-timer and 8,533 part-timer.

However, 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.

Read what some of them have to say further on in this article.

Besides the fact a non-core commercial fishing licence in this province can’t be sold or handed down, the holder is also restricted on vessel size (28 feet, which is a danger in itself), and is disqualified from applying for funding under federal government programs like the Atlantic Fisheries Fund.

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, with many continuing to fish (despite their age) to put bread and butter on the table. A groundfish license in this province has been priced at between $50,000-$60,000.

While non-core licences can't be sold or handed down in Newfoundland and Labrador, that's apparently not the policy in Nova Scotia.

Non-core groundfish licences in that province are for sale in the classified section of the Navigator magazine.

The classifieds section of the fall edition of the Navigator magazine.

SEA-NL asked DFO NL a week ago how it is that non-core groundfish licenses can be sold in in Nova Scotia, but not in Newfoundland and Labrador?

As of today (Nov. 27th), owner-operators are still waiting for an answer.

While non-core fishing licences have been around for years, the issue made headlines again recently with a move by about 80 fishermen in the Maritimes to change the status of their commercial licences.

So-called "Category B" lobster licences in the Maritimes cannot be transferred, leaving them to expire upon the holder's death (the same as non-core fishing licences in this province).

Some of those fishermen launched a website and letter-writing campaign to various ministers, including Joyce Murray, the newly appointed federal Fisheries and Oceans minister.

The fishermen would accept a simple policy change allowing them to sell their licence or take a buyout from DFO.

Logic dictates if they can change the policy in Nova Scotia, they can change it in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Which is where SEA-NL comes in as an advocate for non-core harvesters.

DFO will not release the names of non-core licence holders in Newfoundland and Labrador for confidentiality reasons.

If you know of a non-core fisherman (who hasn't contacted us already), please ask them to e-mail SEA-NL:


Identities have been withheld.

“I started fishing with Dad when I was 12 years old. I am now 62. I fished ever since I had to go offshore because there wasn’t a living inshore for my family on cod alone with a non-core license. I fished for over 30 years for someone else on a longliner until it got too hard for me with health problems (and) now for the last two years I fish cod and squid. It’s about time for someone to change the licensing system so fishers like me can sell our non-core license like every other fisher person.”


“I have held a groundfish harvester’s license for 40 years. When the moratorium started I was told I couldn't be a core fisherman due to I didn't have any sales receipts under my license to prove I was fishing. The reason being was that I fished with my father all my life and everything was sold under his license. That was the way it was done back at that time.”


“I'm non-core and hold other licenses that was passed down from my father in 1982, and still fish what I can in my 23-foot boat. I'm interested in getting the rules changed.”


“If you’re looking for numbers there are three active non-core license holders here, and we’re all in our 50s. I am forced to look for work outside the fishery, can’t make a living on cod alone. If you don’t have crab no wants to look at you. Job to sell your product. Non-core are second class.”


“I fished for 30 years but through some misunderstanding at the time, through all the confusion when (John) Crosbie closed the fishery, I along with many bonafide fishermen at the time ended up with a level 2 license instead of a core license, which screwed us out of a crab license, then we were disabled from making a living from fishing. I have had several people interested in buying my license, I'm unable to sell it to a core fishermen due to outdated regulations, I want to sell my license to a core fisherman so that he can make a better living, I'm hoping that DFO will reconsider and help us all in this matter.”


“As I am designated a a non-core fisherman, I’d just like to reach out and show interest in joining an advocacy group to see a policy change for groundfish license holders to be able to sell or pass down my license as highlighted in the most recent article on As a fisherman who has held a licence for nearly 30 years and actively fished every year since there has been quotas available, it is disheartening to know that I am not able to sign it over to a family member or even sell as I have reached retirement age."


"I have a groundfish license and I called the union last spring asking them if I could sell my groundfish license as I am ready to retire, but I was told that I could not because I was non-core. I fished all my life for 50-odd years, and like everyone else the fish was always sold in the skipper’s name on the receipts. So I am very interested in you looking into this and see what happens. Thank you."


"I’m emailing on behalf of my father who has a non-core license now for close to 40 years. He is planning on retiring soon, now his license will retire with him. I’ve been in fishery for 20 years myself, would love to get his license, but can’t. Anyway we can help to get this changed we will do."


"I’m writing on behalf of my father. Right now he only has a squid license, they took the other ones from him a few years back. He fought tooth and nail, but couldn’t get them back, only squid ... which never made any sense to anyone. He appealed it, done what he can do, but no luck. It’s a very shitty system, and they don’t care about the little man at all, just my opinion."


"I am a non-core fisherman with only groundfish and herring in my enterprise and here in 4R with the very low cod quota and herring this year being too small to catch I will not be able to catch a halibut quota next year. I’m not sure if this is province wide but in 4R you got to have $5,000 of sales on your enterprise the year before or 2 out of 3 year's prior and the halibut sale you caught the year before doesn’t count towards the $5000. I don’t know either other fishery where you got to have a certain amount of income on your enterprise to catch a species."


"I started fishing with my brothers (all passed away now) in 1979, and have been involved in the fishery every year except for 1990 and that year i was deckhand on a boat bringing codfish from Punch bowl ,Labrador back to a fish buyer at Sandy Cove Newfoundland. From 1991 to present I have been either a deckhand on gillnetters or fishing my own little enterprise and throughout the year supplementing my income on gillneters. With a non-core status I haven’t been able to avail of anything the government has given out to improve my enterprise such as the shrimp fund paid to fisherman to get started each spring for a number of years, also money to purchase fish tubs, electric haulers, and there were other things. Discrimination at its finest. Non-core and core all came about through the FFAW and they all should be thrown in jail and the key thrown away. The worst thing to ever happen to Newfoundland was when the moratorium happened since then the fishery got regulated to death by paper pushers."


"I am sending this on behalf of XXXXX. He purchased a groundfish license two weeks before the cod moratorium. He was fishing all his life & is still active at the age of 85. First when he got the license he got a crab licence & fished it for 1 year until the FFAW came up with the policy that you had to have earning of $3,000 to qualify for core. The licence owner that he purchased the groundfish license from was deceased 3 years before he acquired it. He purchased the licence from the estate. He appealed to the union, but it was denied. How could he have earnings for the 3 years that was based on when the guy who owed the license was deceased? The committees didn't want any more fishers taking crab away from the core fishers. I hope you can win this battle like the non-core fishers in Nova Scotia that can sell their licence."


"My father XXXX holds a non-core license (lobster and groundfish). In the last 5 years I've been fishing with him hoping one day to get the license transferred to me. However this isn't possible with a non-core license. After doing some research it was realized that it was unfair that they put his license to non-core because he fished his lobster license in the spring and worked in the woods as a logger in the fall. That was the way of life in Newfoundland as he had no other means of supporting his family. The last 25 years or so prior to that his living and income was solely based on fishing. He didn't fish his groundfish license because of the cod moratorium and was unable to make ends meet without working in the woods to support his family. He did appeal the decision but was denied. My goal is to try to at least save his lobster license and if possible his groundfish."


"I’m a level 2 fisherman who has been fishing all my life and just because I had to go to work away for one year to support my family I could not qualify to be core and I have several licenses and cannot hand them down or sell them."


"I recently saw your post to inquire with interest in being able to sell or pass down my licence. I am interested in seeing changes made to a non-core licence and what a licence holders options are. Being a fisherman all my life, I feel that it isn’t fair to myself or others who hold a non-core licence, that these licences die with the holder."


"I am responding to your invitation for interest in the advocacy campaign. I was denied Core in 1995 despite being engaged in the fishery since a young boy. I am interested in being considered for the advocacy campaign to reinstate core licenses."

Ryan Cleary,


694 views1 comment

1 Comment

Nov 29, 2021

Please let my stick my oar into the mess we now have compared to my fishing experience through 1948- 1960. and 1972-1992 when Fisheries took my license to allow BIG-BUSINESS to continue their overfishing.

I also fished with my dad off and on, with no restrictions over the time period mentioned above.

I remember fondly going to the Co-Op to buy my license from the fishery officer in our little village of Main-a-Dieu, Nova Scotia. The only requirement was to have the $5.00 to pay for the license. There was a limit of 360 traps, but since I used a small skiff ( ! was 10 years old). I only had 25-50 traps, and had to go to grade school.

Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page