A policy analyst with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) said the approach to fisheries management in Canada has been “a failure.”

Shaun Fantauzzo said in a recently-released report he authored that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) should relinquish managerial control of the country’s fisheries to the individual provinces, who he feels are in a better position to manage local resources.

“I think the main idea here is that there are models that can be followed in Atlantic Canada and we’ve chosen basically none of them,” he said. “In Atlantic Canada we have a really viable industry, with an inviable management system.

“It’s not that the region is dependent on the fishing industry, but it’s heavily influenced by the success of the fishing industry … The federal government just kind of put it by the wayside, that’s why I argue we should decentralize this and let the provinces deal with it.”

In a piece entitled “Reforming Atlantic Fisheries: Lessons from Iceland,” Fantauzzo said it’s been two decades since the federal government implemented a moratorium on Newfoundland and Labrador’s cod fishery and since that time, there have been very few attempts to bring meaningful reform to Canadian fisheries management.

His report, released by AIMS and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP), detailed the country of Iceland’s experiment with the individual transferable quota (ITQ) following the collapse of its herring stock in the 1970s and suggested it provides an alternative to Atlantic Canada’s current management system.

He completed a comparative analysis of fisheries management in both Iceland and Canada and concluded that “the most obvious lesson is relinquishing managerial control of Canada’s fisheries to the provinces, which are invariably familiar with managing their local resources,” adding that “affording fishers and fleets ownership of the fishery in which they operate induces elements of proudness, refuge, and endurance, whereas Canada’s current fisheries management system provides only the incentive to contemplate short-term gains.”

Canadian coastal and inland fisheries are common property and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is responsible for setting catch limits, enforcing jurisdictional regulations and conducting scientific research on marine ecology.

Fantauzzo said in 1992 the DFO imposed a moratorium on Atlantic cod following years of overfishing, stock depletion, and mismanagement.

He said since then the government has transferred billions to Atlantic fishers to subsidize the industry’s decline, “instead of producing meaningful fisheries reform. As a result, Canada’s cod stock remains dangerously low and there have been very few signs of sustainable recovery.”

He said Iceland’s herring stock collapsed in the 1960s and the government imposed a moratorium to prevent conditions from worsening, while pursuing fisheries reform immediately and lifting the moratorium four years after implementation.

“It has since experienced both stock regeneration and employment stabilization and studies show that Iceland’s management costs are lower than Newfoundland’s, while annual catch value is substantially higher,” he wrote.

A request for comment from DFO was not returned by press time.

“In general the DFO kind of sets the limits and sets the standards for the year and then that’s about it, that is the relationship,” Fantauzzo said.

In New Brunswick the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries is the provincial governing body. According to information provided by the department, they are responsible for the regulation of fish buying and processing, as well as fisheries industry economic viability (both fishing enterprises and the processing/marketing sector).

The department also provides development programming for fisheries improvement, on boats, in transit to and in plants and domestic and international development.

The department on Monday declined the opportunity to comment on Fantauzzo’s suggestions and comments.

Fantauzzo said with a provincial government, like with DFO, there are likely varied opinions on this topic.

“I’m sure there are folks with the government that do think there’s a great need for decentralization, I’m sure there’s folks in the government that say DFO is doing a fine job,” he said. “I think the point here is that the provincial governments are inherently better at dealing with needs of their people … When you are more familiar with your environment, you should be … more familiar with regulation or what’s good for it.

“I”m not saying DFO has no idea how to regulate, that would be nonsense. But the provinces by virtue of being in that region and being familiar with it, would be better tuned to do it.”

*This piece appeared in the Times and Transcript