The double standard of Canada's natural resources

Imagine for a moment if France moved in and started mining ore on the Southern Shore, based on their previous settlement history. Or if England moved in and started harvesting timber in central Newfoundland, citing the previous colonial government as giving them the right to do so. Or if the Scandinavians (formerly Vikings) started drilling and extracting oil in St. Anthony because they used to live there.

I wonder how everyone would react to that?

Call me a sensationalist, but I would suggest it would be torch and pitchfork time, heads would roll, and Rome would be razed to the ground in a campaign of Newfoundland nationalism the likes of which we have never seen.

So please tell me how it is that when exactly that same thing happens with fish, nobody gives a fiddler's you-know-what? Yes, that's a rhetorical question; so no need to be pointing it out.

As I write this, vessels from other provinces (Nova Scotia, and earlier in the year Quebec) and countries (France via St. Pierre-Miquelon) are out catching halibut in Newfoundland waters.

They are bringing it ashore, in some cases, to Newfoundland ports. And they are selling their catch — worth an average of $3.81 per pound, which is three times the price of crab, and more than seven times the price of cod — to Newfoundland buyers.

While that's going on, fishermen from Newfoundland are forced to sit on the wharf and watch. They're not allowed to catch it. They have already caught their small direct fishing and bycatch quotas.

In fact, at this point, any halibut they might accidentally catch has to go back in the water dead or alive, which can only be described as a ridiculous measure in the 21st century no matter how much the authorities mistrust fishermen.

So how is it these outside interests can move into local waters and catch fish that the locals themselves are prohibited from fishing? Two words: historical attachment.

You see, when the halibut quota was last divided up, a lot of it was based on historical attachment. If somebody had at some point fished in a certain area, they were given a cut of the quota.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's a management strategy that clearly isn't working, at least not for those who live next to the fish. It seems to fly in the face of every fisheries cornerstone: management, conservation and adjacency.

Politicians are always spewing talking points about maximizing Newfoundland and Labrador resource benefits for locals, and the principles of adjacency when it comes to things like minerals, oil, timber, etc. But fish, which was worth a raw material price of more than $600 million last year, seems to rarely get the same consideration.

You don't have to be a mathematician to calculate that a sizeable chunk of the population doesn't give a crap about the fishery, doesn't know squat about the fishery and doesn't want to hear about the fishery. Since 1992 and the fallout of the moratorium, the general populace has been conditioned by all and sundry to turn a deaf ear to fish.

As a result of that societal complacency, right now, in 2013, vessels from outside this province are right here catching and selling the most valuable thing in the water while people from here are forced to sit and watch. In any other industry, it simply would not be tolerated.

More people spent more time this past week getting their knickers in a knot over a propane tank on the St. John's waterfront than they did about the extraction of local resources by outside interests.

And they wonder why fishermen seem a bit touchy.

In the meantime, I'm off to lay claim to a New York City skyscraper. After all, Newfoundlanders helped with the steel-work for some of them, so I figure they have historical attachment.

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