Fishermen warn of ‘disastrous effects’ as minister aims to protect fish stocks from climate disruption

A recent appearance by Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray at an annual industry meeting has sparked a firestorm of controversy, with fishermen and unions warning of the “disastrous social and economic effects” of federal catch limits and Murray emphasizing his interest in keeping fish stocks sustainable. in the age of climate change.

Unions representing fishers on Canada’s east and west coasts say his remarks at the annual general meeting of the Canadian Federation of Independent Fish Harvesters (CIFHF) reflected a “special focus on ocean conservation” to the detriment of workers whose means livelihoods depend on the fishing industry. .

In a statement, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union said Murray “presented a vision where fishing is of diminished importance and where fishermen are asked to bear the brunt of the sacrifice for a climate change issue in which they contributed little.

“To suggest that small-scale owner-operator fishers who fish sustainably and contribute economically, socially and culturally to our regions should be the ones to find a new career path is frankly shocking and underscores the Minister’s ignorance or flippancy towards what fishing means to our communities,” said FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan.

Murray said in an emailed statement that she was disappointed her comments had been “publicly misinterpreted”, adding that she would have been happy to address any concerns at the time.

There is no recording or transcript of the AGM, but Courtney Glode, FFAW-Unifor communications manager, said The energy mix in an email that FFAW “took detailed written notes and there were 45 people present who can verify.”

CIFHF chief executive Melanie Sonnenberg said the FFAW statement accurately captured Murray’s comments, adding that she hoped to have the opportunity to find a way forward with the minister. She suggested Murray, a professional forester and former B.C. environment minister with decades of sustainability experience, is “on a steep learning curve” since she doesn’t come from the fishing industry.

“People are very concerned about the messages they hear, and we need to be clear about that,” Sonnenberg added.

AGM minutes from Murray and FFAW indicate differing views on the Minister’s position on how the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) should respond to climate change and how policies ministerial decisions affect the fishing industry.

Murray said she wants to work with fishers in coastal communities across Canada to achieve “shared goals for a sustainable and prosperous fishery, which has sustained our coastal communities for generations, and which we want to make sure can allow generations to come.”

In his statement on the controversy, Murray said his comments were “rooted in the reality that our oceans are warming, which is impacting the species they support and, therefore, some fish stocks that support communities. coastal areas are in a fragile state”. She added that she wanted to “work with fishers to address the challenges facing our oceans and fish stocks, while ensuring that owner-operators can continue to contribute economically, socially and culturally to their communities in as fish stocks permit.

But the FFAW said Murray “has made it clear that his goal is to keep as many fish in the water as possible and to grow as much vegetation in the water as possible so that the Atlantic Ocean can absorb carbon better. to combat climate change”.

Glode added that the minister “diverted to employment insurance programs and retraining in new industries” when asked about support for fishers and business owners whose livelihoods have suffered. been eliminated. She responded to another question about digitizing certain aspects of fishing saying that “she would like to look at the blue economy, the ocean supercluster and the retraining of fishermen to earn a living, not “extractive” sectors. “”.

Publicist Claire Teichman said The mixture that Murray’s words were taken out of context and that his recycling comment was about a strategy to support fishing economies, not replace the fisheries themselves.

But union representatives have expressed concerns about how DFO decisions are made and how officials deal with the effects on fishing communities. “The government is dismantling the commercial fishery under the banner of future planning and conservation,” Sullivan said, “although our fisheries are already being managed with a precautionary and conservation approach.”

DFO decisions are based on politics and ideology rather than science and industry consultation, Sullivan added. “In many cases, the data and the science do not support claims that stock abundance is to blame, such as with herring,” he said, referring to Murray’s closure of most Pacific herring fisheries on the west coast.

Murray’s statement that “some” stocks are in a fragile state indicates that the department is focusing on a number of fish species, rather than all species, as Sullivan suggested. But Sonnenberg said most AGM members felt the message was “that every action is problematic,” reports SaltWire.

Oceana Canada, an independent charity that audited Canada’s fisheries in 2021, before Murray was appointed minister, says “nearly one in five stocks are still seriously depleted”, while the health of a third of fish species is uncertain due to insufficient data. The audit echoed FFAW’s concerns about decisions that are not supported by science, concluding that “DFO operates mostly in the dark when making critical decisions about these fish, such as how much to fish. to authorize”.

While both organizations call for more evidence-based decision-making, Oceana Canada says more conservation policies and precautionary reconstruction plans are needed.

Another 2019 assessment called for plans to ensure long-term economic returns by rebuilding fish stocks, even if the strategy would result in short-term economic losses for fishing communities. The reconstruction “would occur in a context where commercial fishing participants have already faced declining yields and participation in the fishery,” the assessment said.

This review concluded that the social impacts of reconstruction need to be considered and that support for fishing communities should be a key part of the process.

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