'This was an opportunity for the minister to correct an injustice.'

Feds assailed as southern firms get turbot quota


The federal government missed a big opportunity to help develop Nunavut's fishing industry, say several Inuit groups, after a turbot quota in southern Davis Strait was given to southern interests.

Loyola Hearn, the minister of Fisheries and Oceans, recently approved the transfer of a quota to catch 1,900 tonnes of turbot from Seafreez Foods Inc. to two other southern companies.

Had the quota been given to Nunavut interests, it would have created more jobs for the territory, said Patterk Netser, Nunavut's minister of economic development, Feb. 21.

The quota would have boosted Nunavut's share of fish from 27 to 62 per cent in the area, known as 0B, which stretches from the northern tip of Labrador to one-third up the coast of Baffin Island, between Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq.

Netser and others point out that southern jurisdictions enjoy the right to the vast majority of the fish catch in their adjacent waters. They say that Nunavut ought to receive the same.

But Kevin Stringer, DFO's director general of resource management, said his department won't force fishers from Atlantic Canada out of Arctic waters.

"We're not in the business of moving people out of the fisheries," he said.

Stringer's department has been accused by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. of violating the land claims agreement by not adequately consulting with Inuit.

Not so, Stringer replies. He says the DFO sent a number of letters to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, and was not required to do anything more.

He also says that Nunavut has seen a big increase in its share of fish over the last decade, from 27 to 68 per cent, if all adjacent waters are added up.

But much of that fishing is done in the northern Davis Strait, where the season is far shorter because of ice conditions, and where it's far more expensive to operate a fishing vessel compared to southern Davis Strait, due to the extra time and fuel consumed travelling to and from remote northern waters.

Jerry Ward, CEO of the Baffin Fisheries Coalition, said the turbot quota would have been a boon for Nunavut.

"This was an opportunity for the minister to correct an injustice that was done in the past," he said. "This was a golden opportunity for us."

The BFC operates several freezer-factory boats that catch turbot and shrimp using a combination of trawling and fixed gear. In 2006, 70 Inuit worked on BFC boats.

About one-third of the crew are Inuit, Ward said, with a typical crew of about 27 usually including eight to 10 Inuit on board.

These Inuit hold the lowest jobs on board, processing fish below deck. Ward said that's because no Inuit have yet become qualified to hold more more important jobs.

"No Inuit in Nunavut have a mate's certificate, or an engineering certificate," he said. "It's a fact."

Ward says the BFC has spent $1 million over three years to train about 200 Inuit to work on fishing boats. He said that one day Inuit workers will hold more important jobs, but "that's going to take some time."

The BFC has also delivered 2,000 tonnes of fish to Pangnirtung's money-losing fish plant since 2001.

And it has doled out $2.4 million to hunter and trapper organizations, which are members of the coalition, over the last four years.

And the BFC has spent several million on exploratory fishing in northern waters, which Ward credits for the assignment of bigger quotas in northern Davis Strait in recent years.

Other than this, information on how the BFC spends its money is limited. Ward won't talk profits. He says the the business arm of the BFC is a private company.

Ward recalls being "crucified" in past years over the BFC's use of trawling, which can destroy the seabed. He says BFC vessels now only trawl half the time, and use long-lines the other half.

Others have alleged the BFC is controlled by foreign interests, due to its partnership with companies from Greenland and Iceland. Ward insists all the BFC's companies, and vessels, are registered as Canadian.

"It simply comes down to a jealousy issue," he said. "There's no issue or controversy any more."

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