Baffin fisheries group answers critics

“Until you own your own vessels, you will not control your own destiny”


The executive director of the Baffin Fisheries Coalition, Gerry Ward, vehemently denies recent allegations that the group fails to encourage Nunavut participation in the Arctic fishery and is unaccountable to the Inuit it represents.

Last month, an Iqaluit fisherman, Sytukie Joamie, blasted the fisheries coalition at a Senate committee hearing in Ottawa.

Joamie alleged that the group neglects Nunavut interests by selling fishing licences to foreign companies, and fails to make long-term investments aimed at developing a Nunavut fishery.

But Ward says that’s exactly what the BFC is doing already.

The group was formed in 2001 by 11 Inuit-owned or Inuit-controlled organizations, after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans allocated 100 per cent of new turbot quota to Nunavut interests for an area called “OA.”

Ward says they are setting aside 30 per cent of their revenue every year for a vessel acquisition fund, organizing training programs for Inuit with the federal Department of Human Resources Development, conducting test fisheries, lobbying for more scientific research, and lobbying for bigger Nunavut fishing quotas.

“It was set up specifically by 11 Nunavut-owned organizations so as to get a critical mass, because we are fishing very far north and if you divided up the allocation between everyone who wanted some, you would never have the critical mass to really benefit the Inuit specifically, and to buy and operate Inuit-owned vessels,” Ward said.

The BFC’s participating organizations include hunters and trappers organizations, Baffin Inuit organizations and the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board.

Ward said that in its early years, the BFC’s plan is to take money earned by chartering non-Inuit vessels to fish in area OA , and invest it in fisheries development.

That includes the money set aside for the eventual purchase of a 60-65-metre factory-freezer trawler for Nunavut capable of fishing both turbot and shrimp. Even a good used vessel of that type would cost at least $20 million, and a new one about $30 to $35 million.

“Until you own your own vessels, you will not control your own destiny,” Ward said.

Ward said foreign vessel operators are willing to pay the BFC more money than Canadian operators for the right to fish in area OA. In turn, this allows the organization to “maximize our revenue from this fishery to allow us to meet our overall objectives.”

Ward agrees that, in the past, the practice of leasing Nunavut fishing licences to southern fishing companies resulted in mere “token employment” for Inuit.

“By and large, there has not been a concentrated effort by southern interests to maximize Inuit employment,” Ward said.

Rather than repeat this pattern, the BFC seeks to break it, through a long-term business plan that includes buying a Nunavut-owned vessel. That way, Nunavut will control who is hired and trained to work on it, where the fish is processed, and who gets the profits.

Ward said the BFC has already drawn up business plans to both purchase and operate the new vessel, for use in backing up proposals to investors, such as banks.

“What’s most important is that we make the right move,” Ward said. “If we make the wrong move, it could set us back 10 to 15 years.”

He said that’s why it’s important to maintain the BFC’s “critical mass” or unity, he said.

If disgruntled partners were to break away to make their own deals with other interests for short-term gain, all groups would be weakened and the BFC’s development work to date will have been wasted.

As for the allegation that the BFC is not accountable, Ward says the organization’s headquarters are in Iqaluit, not Newfoundland.

He says each of the 11 members of the coalition are represented by one person who sits on the board, including the Iqaluit HTO. The 11 members in turn have elected a five-person executive committee, including a chair, vice-chair, and secretary treasurer.

The “three lawyers” in Ottawa that Joamie referred to in his comments before the Senate committee act merely as legal advisors and have no decision-making role in the organization, Ward said.

The organization also hands out draft agendas in advance of meetings, and supplies all board members with minutes.

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