Robert's column

Robert Barron Column: Fishers should be listened to

‘I always love a story when someone figuratively fights city hall and wins’

I always love a story when someone figuratively fights city hall and wins.

It’s a typical story of David versus Goliath and everyone [or almost everyone] rejoices when the little guy triumphs over seemingly insurmountable odds.

That appears to be the case as prawn fishers on the Island take a stand against what looks to me to be an arbitrary and bureaucratic decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to change regulations regarding the harvesting of spot prawns, which now makes the sale of frozen-at-sea spot prawns illegal.

Prawn fishers, who make a large part of their income from local markets, could take a significant financial hit if these new rules are enforced and began what seems to have become an increasingly successful campaign to have the regulations reversed.

Thanks to the efforts of many, including Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, the federal Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has agreed to conduct an emergency review of the regulations and, hopefully, common sense will prevail and the new rules will be reversed. Unfortunately, that kind of common sense just didn’t appear to exist in DFO when the northern cod stocks collapsed off Canada’s east coast in the early 1990s.

It’s said that when Italian explorer John Cabot discovered Newfoundland at the head of an English expedition in 1497, the cod in the waters off that province’s shores were so thick, Cabot’s ship couldn’t sail its way through them.

The cod fishery was the cornerstone of Newfoundland’s economy for hundreds of years after that, but when the province joined confederation in 1949, management of the stocks switched to Ottawa and things began to quickly change for the worse. Subsequent Canadian governments saw the cod stocks as inexhaustible and began using them as poker chips in their myriad of trade deals with nations around the globe, and allowed huge foreign factory trawlers into the area in the 1960s and 1970s that started scooping cod out of the water at unimaginable rates.

By the 1980s, inshore fisherman who had spent their lives on the sea fishing for a living began voicing concerns to DFO that their catches of cod were becoming increasingly smaller, as well as the size of the fish being caught, and began pointing fingers on the huge trawlers [not all of which were foreign by this time] as the cause.

These concerns were largely dismissed by the DFO “scientists” who spent years explaining the stock declines were, among other things, cyclical in nature and the armchair “experts” claimed they would return in full strength in future seasons.

But the stocks continued to decline until, finally, in 1992, DFO and the federal government finally had to admit that they had been wrong for many years about the state of the cod population, and closed the fishery putting thousands of people who relied on it out of work.

I was working for a newspaper in a fishing area of Newfoundland at the time, and the sights I saw over the next two years as it became apparent that there was no quick fix for the problem were heart breaking. I watched as whole communities nailed up the windows of their homes, which were virtually unsellable after the cod stocks and the economy collapsed, and leave in convoys to what they hoped was greener pastures in other parts of the province or Canada.

The cod stocks never did return in any marketable numbers, and I left Newfoundland myself a few years later to seek a more prosperous future elsewhere. That’s why, to this day, I’m deeply skeptical of many decisions made by DFO, and I hope the local prawn fishermen are successful in having these reckless and inane prawn rules reversed.


Just Posted

Before you take on a pet, make sure you want to have it for life. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Editorial: A pet is a lifetime commitment

Tons of people are getting pets during the pandemic, some for the first time

North Cowichan to consider implementing a new policy on cell towers in the municipality. (File photo)
North Cowichan to consider cell tower policy

Rogers Communications proposal prompts North Cowichan to revisit policy on the structures

Cowichan Valley school district to get new electric-powered bus by the end of the school year. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley school district to get new electric-powered school bus

Bus one of 18 to be distributed across the province

Condemned building of the Twin Gables Motel in Crofton is not safe and yet a teen has been climbing around on the roof while others were ripping the siding off the building. (Submitted)
Destructive behaviour by teens wreaking havoc on Crofton

Residents becoming fed up with the constant vandalism and fires

This tractor was stolen from Providence Farm near Duncan between May 6 and 7, 2021. (Submitted)
Tractor stolen from Cowichan’s Providence Farm

John Deere X300 model was swiped between May 6 and 7

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

A nurse asks screening questions at an immunization appointment in Nanaimo earlier this year. (Shawn Wagar/Island Health photo)
Island Health appreciates nurses answering the call in challenging times

Health authority draws attention to National Nursing Week

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

What3words was first created in the U.K. in 2013 and is credited to saving the lives of outdoor enthusiasts around the world. (Contributed)
‘This is a life saving tool’: App helps paramedics find capsized canoeists near Revelstoke

What3words pinpoints the person’s phone location to a three-meter range

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 rate creeps up again, 600 new cases Wednesday

One more death, 423 people in hospital with virus

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham takes questions in the B.C. legislature in 2017. (Hansard TV)
UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

John Horgan government working on school meal program

Surrey RCMP is releasing sketches of a suspect in an “indecent act” at the Coyote Creek Elementary playground on April 30, 2021. Police said the suspect was clean-shaven “during some interactions” and on “other occasions had stubble outlining a goatee and mustache.” (Images: Surrey RCMP handout)
Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says there’s no time to redo details of drug decriminalization plan

Kennedy Stewart says a federal election could see the small window of opportunity close on the city’s bid for an exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small amounts of drugs

These are just a handful of Vancouver Island’s missing person cases. Clockwise from top left: Lisa Marie Young, Lindsey Nicholls, Micheal Dunahee, Jesokah Adkens, Belinda Cameron and Emma Fillipoff. (File photos courtesy of family members and police departments)
Could Victoria skull fragment bring closure to an Island missing persons mystery?

Skeletal remains found in Greater Victoria have not yet been identified

Most Read