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Commons committee endorses owner-operator policy

The Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has recommended the fleet separation and owner-operator policy be entrenched in a new Fisheries Act.

The recommendation was included in a committee report. Committee Chair Scott Simms says several presenters made the case for continuation of the policy when they testified before the committee.

“The fleet separation policy keeps ownership of fish harvesting and processing sectors separate by preventing processing companies from acquiring the fishing licences of inshore vessels (those measuring less than 19.8 m),” the report says. “The owner-operator policy requires the holders of licences for inshore vessels to be present on the boat during fishing operations.”

Simms says the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation, Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore Fisherman’s Protective Association, Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board, the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association and Quebec’s Regroupement des Pêcheurs Professionnels de la Haute et de la Moyenne Côte-Nord all called for the enshrinement of the fleet separation and owner-operator policies within the Fisheries Act.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Steve Crocker also expressed his support for the legal entrenchment of the fleet separation and owner-operator policies, as well as the DFO policy requiring a harvester be certified as a level II professional fish harvester in order to receive the transfer of a core enterprise.

The report also recommends Fisheries and Oceans Canada take an ecosystem approach to protection and restoration of fish habitats, emphasizing protection for priority habitats that contribute significantly to fish production. The MPs also suggest Fisheries and Oceans Canada work with the farm community and rural municipalities to provide incentives and expert advice to conserve and enhance fish habitat and populations and utilize the enforcement only as a last resport.

There’s also a call for a clear definition of a fisheries habitat and improved communication with fishers and other stakeholders. To help that effort, the committee suggests an advisory council provide advice on administration and enforcement of the Fisheries Act. Such a council would consist of industry groups, project proponents, agricultural groups, municipal government representatives and commercial, recreational and Indigenous fisheries representatives.

The committee also calls for the creation of a public and accessible database system that will identify:

  • The location and status of projects flagged by the Department as having a potential to cause harm to fish and fish habitat (authorizations, monitoring results and convictions) and their cumulative effects;
  • The location of different aquatic species;
  • Up-to-date monitoring of aquatic species at risk and their status;
  • and the status of authorizations.

Committee members are also calling for more enforcement and enhancement personnel.

The committee also want the re-establishment of the Habitat Protection Branch, adequately resourced to provide advice to proponents of projects that may impact marine and freshwater habitats. When the fisheries minister exercises his or her discretionary powers over licencing, the committee calls for transparency principles and public disclosure.