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Under the radar


It was peculiar, out of the ordinary, really.

Shrimp fishing boats, part of the inshore fleet, at Port de Grave.

TC Media file photo

After it selected the members of the Ministerial Advisory Panel (MAP) to examine the “Last In, First Out” (LIFO) policy for northern shrimp, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) chose to do it quietly.

No media advisory on this one, or public announcement via a press release.

Instead, the news about who was appointed to the panel was buried on the DFO website; in the “fisheries” section and not the “media” section.

It’s only because someone sent me the link that I can tell you that the information on the panel is at: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/peches-fisheries/comm/shrimp-crevette/shrimp-crevette-eng.htm

When I pressed the DFO for an answer on why the announcement wasn’t made as a “media advisory” or press release, their answer was that the information was delivered to the stakeholders — specifically the members of the Northern Shrimp Advisory Panel — through an email.

I do know, as well, the email did not go out to some members of the panel until very late on Friday afternoon, April 15.

The Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) did not get the email until around 4:30 p.m., practically as staff was closing up the office for the day.

It was a done deal by DFO, with no time for stakeholders to digest or assess the information.

There is something troubling about this, especially when you consider that announcements of this sort have been done very differently in the past.

In 2011, when DFO announced the details of an independent review of Northern Shrimp, it was done through a joint press release/statement by DFO Minister Keith Ashfield; provincial fisheries minister Clyde Jackman, and the then Regional Minister for NL, Peter Penashue.

Why the same detail wasn’t offered through public announcement this time around is questionable.

And while DFO asserts that the panel is independent and arms-length from the department, I can’t get past the fact that two of its members have very strong ties to DFO.

Wayne Follett was DFO’s director general for Newfoundland and Labrador for years, and Paul Sprout is a career civil servant who held the same position for DFO in British Columbia.

While they certainly have a wealth of information on fishing matters, I have to wonder whether they may bring a certain level of bias to this role.

One of them will, very likely, be chair of this committee.

It would have been preferable if the minister could have included on the panel a few other people — and perhaps a retired justice to oversee and chair the entire thing.

While it did a very poor job of announcing the panel membership publicly, DFO has to ensure that public is fully aware of each step of the rest of this process.

The stakeholders in the northern shrimp issue are not solely the members of the Northern Shrimp Advisory Committee (a committee that includes shrimp processors, offshore fleets, provincial and territorial governments and the inshore fleet via the FFAW).

The stakeholders include every community and town that has a shrimp processing operation within its boundaries and is home port to an inshore shrimp fishing crew.

The stakeholders are every person that works in a community where the main source of new dollars is from the fishery — specifically the shrimp fishery.

They will all be impacted — good or bad — by the final report and recommendations, and the minister’s decision that will come from this process.

Sylvie Lapointe,Director General of Fisheries Management with DFO in Ottawa, says that from here on, the Ministerial Advisory Panel will decide on dates and times for public hearings and will determine how notices of meetings will be announced.

I beg to differ because that’s simply not sufficient.

DFO has an obligation to ensure the public at large is aware of every step of this process — from to dates and locations for the public meetings, to final report.

Notices of meetings should still be delivered through DFO public advisories, on its regional websites, via social media and through direct email to the towns and communities where the meetings will be held.

Meanwhile, I offer up my email: Barb.Dean-Simmons@tc.tc and ask that I be included on the list of media contacts.

My aim is to attend some of those public meetings.

Beyond that I cannot stress enough how important it is for community leaders, businesses and people in towns and communities around this province plan to do the same.

As I’ve said before, and it bears repeating, the northern shrimp issue is not just a fishery issue.

It is an economic issue.

The eventual decision on DFO’s LIFO policy could have a drastic impact on inshore fishing fleets and rural communities.

Just four people — Follett and Sprout, along with former provincial fisheries minister Trevor Taylor and an employment counseling consultant, Barbara Crann — have the crucial task of deciding whether the inshore fleet (categorized as ‘last in’ to the northern shrimp fishery) will be the ‘first out’ if and when shrimp quotas are reduced.

But thousands of other people have to speak up.

While some inshore fishers will speak for themselves during the panel hearings, they also need their local communities to speak with them and for them as well.

The future of every fishing community depends on your input.

 

Until next time: Over and out

 

Barbara Dean-Simmons lives in Trinity Bay and has been reporting on the fishery for over 30 years.

 

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