Nunavut interests deserved 'special consideration'

Judge criticizes decision to transfer turbot quota

By CHRIS WINDEYER

A federal court judge rapped the knuckles of the federal fisheries minister for not giving enough consideration to Nunavut fishing interests when the transfer of Davis Strait turbot quota got the okay last year.

The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board brought the complaint after then-fisheries minister Loyola Hearn approved the sale of 1,900 tons of turbot quota from Seafreez Inc., owned by Newfoundland-based Barry Group, to fishing companies based in Nova Scotia and Labrador.

Justice Michael Kelen found that the fisheries minister should have better consulted Nunavut before signing off on the deal.

Under the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement, Hearn should have given "special consideration" to the fact that the quota is adjacent to the territory and that Nunavut communities are economically dependent on marine resources.

"The minister blatantly disregarded the applicant's representations and his own deputy minister's advice in this regard," Kelen wrote in a 47-page decision issued ­earlier this month.

Jerry Ward, the chief operating officer of the Baffin Fisheries Coalition, applauded the decision, even though it means Nunavut interests won't have access to the 1,900 tons of quota unless the new owners decide to sell.

"I thought it was very strong words from the judge and very positive for Nunavut in particular where he says that the consultation process by the minister was nothing more than a sham," Ward said in a telephone interview.

In its submission the NWMB echoed a longstanding complaint of Nunavut's fishing industry and territorial politicians: that Nunavut doesn't get access to a fair share of the turbot quota in the Davis Strait.

Nunavut companies control 68 per cent of turbot quota in the Davis Strait, while Atlantic-based companies typically control 80 to 95 per cent of fisheries adjacent to the Atlantic provinces.

But because the quota sale complied with federal guidelines governing the sale of quota allocations between companies already operating fishing boatss longer than 100 feet, Kelen declined to overturn Hearn's ruling.

The judge did find that the DFO should reconsider its policy on licence transfers.

"The concerns raised by the applicant create a duty to consult with the applicant before further transfers of company quotas are approved…and to provide the applicant with a rationale for the minister's decision," Kelen wrote.

At the time the quota decision became public, Nunavut fishers torched a boat with the letters "DFO" spray painted on it, and then-premier Paul Okalik called on Hearn to resign.

Hearn didn't run in last October's federal election.

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