Okalik warns of lawsuit over shrimp quota

DFO minister says criticism based on “misunderstanding”



Paul Okalik, the premier of Nunavut, says the federal government’s allocation of 1,044 metric tonnes worth of shrimp quota to non-Nunavut fishermen is unacceptable, and that Nunavut is considering a lawsuit to increase Nunavut’s share.

Of the 2,100-metric-tonne increase for Zone 1, or Davis Strait, announced on May 26, Nunavut gets 1,083 MT, only 51 per cent of it – bringing the territory’s total allowable catch to just over 4,500 MT.

The remaining 1,044 MT goes to Atlantic fishermen and Nunavik’s Makivik Corp.

Nunavut stakeholders expected to get 100 per cent of the 2,100-MT increase.

“[The] decision has set us back our potential fishing industry,” Okalik said.

More shrimp means more jobs and money for Nunavummiut.

“We don’t have much mineral potential, we don’t have trees to harvest. It’s unfortunate we are continually deprived of our potential benefits for residents. Taking legal action is an option we’ll be looking at. We’ve been trying to work with the [federal] government but it does not appear to have had an effect,” Okalik said.

The decision, by Robert Thibault, the minister of fisheries and oceans, is a blow to members of the Nunavut Fisheries Working Group, made up of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, and the Department of Sustainable Development.

Raymond Ningeocheak, NTI’s second vice-president, issued a statement vehemently opposing Thibault’s announcement.

“It might benefit those with no cod left to catch, but it comes at the expense of Inuit trying to develop their own shrimp fishery,” said Ningeocheak.

The decision is consistent with the federal government’s past practice of restricting access by Nunavut shrimp fishing interests in waters adjacent to Nunavut, said Ben Kovic, the chairperson of the NWMB.

“It is particularly disappointing, because Nunavut had been led to believe things were about to change,” Kovic said.

“Shocked and stunned” is how Carey Bonnell, manager of fisheries for the Nunavut government, described the effect of Thibault’s announcement.

Adding insult to injury, Bonnell said, Thibault endorsed a report six months ago by the Independent Panel on Access Criteria recommending that Nunavut get 100 per cent of any future quota increases.

“No additional access should be granted to non-Nunavut interests in waters adjacent to Nunavut until the territory has achieved access to a major share of its adjacent fishery resources,” the report says.

In a telephone interview, Thibault said Nunavut’s criticism of his decision is based on “a misunderstanding.”

“There is a distinction between access and allocation. Under the IPAC it was understood that allocations continue to be distributed to people who already have access,” he said.

In other words, Atlantic and foreign vessels that already fish in Nunavut waters will, with DFO’s approval, continue to do so.

Thibault’s decision is not reversible.

“What’s important to understand is there is potential for additional allocations to Nunavut in future years. You have to look at the full picture. The new science quota could mean more increases in the future in which Nunavut would be the primary beneficiary,” Thibault said.

Thibault said he plans to visit Nunavut this year, as part of a tour of the territories.

Okalik anxiously awaits the minister’s arrival. “I look forward to hosting and educating him first-hand,” Okalik said.

Also lending a voice in support of Nunavut was Peter Stoffer, the House of Commons fisheries critic for the New Democratic Party.

“The minister has made an uninformed and ad hoc decision to patch up the damage he did to the cod fishery. The whole thing stinks to high heaven,” Stoffer said.

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