FISH-NL asks federal Auditor General to investigate sentinel cod fisheries 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Friday, Aug. 17th, 2018

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) has asked the Auditor General of Canada to investigate DFO’s management of the sentinel cod fisheries in the province. 

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FFAW-UNIFOR PHOTO

“Money from the sale of cod caught in the sentinel or test fisheries goes in the pockets of the FFAW-Unifor even though the program is supposedly fully financed directly by Fisheries and Oceans,” says Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL.

In a letter Thursday to Auditor General Michael Ferguson, Cleary said there doesn’t appear to be any formal audit or reporting process in place to calculate the amount of money raised by the sale of cod caught through the sentinel program, or to determine how the money is spent.  

Further, even though money from the sale of cod is used to subsidize the sentinel fisheries, the program falls outside Section 10 of the federal Fisheries Act, which seems to be a clear violation of the legislation.  

Section 10 of the Act gives the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans the power to allocate fish for the purposes of financing scientific or fisheries management activities, commonly referred to as “use of fish.”  

In the NL region, the Use of Fish policy applies to snow crab, redfish, and shrimp — but not cod. According to DFO in St. John’s, the funding and delivery model for the sentinel cod fisheries was developed in 1994, and has been “fully financed” by DFO since its inception.  

In 2017, the sentinel fisheries contract for fisheries zones 2J,3KL and 3Ps was worth an estimated $660,000, while the contract for the sentinel cod fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (fishing zones 4R,3Pn) was worth $445,000.

However, the combined $1.1-million contracts apparently haven’t been enough to “fully finance” the sentinel fisheries because the FFAW-Unifor — which has overseen the sentinel fisheries contracts from Day 1 — has been keeping the money from the sale of the cod. 

According to information obtained through the federal Access to Information and Privacy Act (ATIP),  the 2016 landed value of the cod caught in all sentinel fisheries around the province was $197,000. The landed value of cod in previous years would have been much more because cod catches were higher.

In 2013, the total cod landings in the sentinel fisheries around the province (excluding the Gulf region) came in at 303.1 tonnes, versus 215.5 tonnes in 2016.

Questions have also been raised about where the union sells the cod, the price per pound, how it was negotiated, and whether there was potential for conflict of interest.    

As the bargaining agent for inshore harvesters, the FFAW-Unifor negotiates the price of cod. In 2017, the union negotiated the price directly with Icewater Seafoods, the same Arnold’s Cove processing company where it's believed much of the union cod was sold. The FFAW also represents unionized plant workers at the Arnold’s Cove operation.

In documents also obtained through ATIP, Ben Davis of DFO’s NL region stated: “We do not have anything to do with the sale of the fish and no revenues from fish sales are returned to DFO. We do not know exactly how the revenues are spent by the contractor other than defray project costs.”  

“In one breath, DFO says the sentinel contracts are fully financed by the department, but in next breath the department acknowledges money from the sale of the cod is used to subsidize the cost of the program,” Cleary wrote in the letter to the AG.   

“The sentinel fisheries in NL are financed directly by DFO, but also indirectly through the sale of cod — while sidestepping the “Use of Fish” legislation and in the complete absence of audit and recording controls.”  

“An investigation by the Auditor General would shed light on this dark corner of DFO.”

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