Federal Court rules on the side of fishermen on Class B licence policy

·3 min read

GUYSBOROUGH – This newspaper reported last November on the efforts of a small group of fishermen to obtain the right to sell or pass down their Class B lobster fishing licences, which will expire when the holders die.

At the end of December, the Federal Court of Canada ruled a judicial review of the decision prohibiting the sale of a Class B licence – in a court case initiated by Newfoundland fisherman Donald Publicover – would be allowed.

Upon hearing the news that the wheels of justice had acted in the fishermen’s favour, and that change to the policy applied to Class B licences may be afoot, James MacDonald, a lifelong fisherman who currently holds a Class B lobster licence, said, “That’s tremendous and I think we deserve that … we were told, ‘Oh, if the time comes that you want to get your Class A licence back, you can get them.’ But, if we can get that, we can either hand down or sell the ones we have, that’s better than letting them die with us.”

MacDonald, who resides in Cooks Cove, Guysborough County, has been fishing in Chedabucto Bay since he was 12 years old and, at 84, he continues to head out on the water every lobster season. He’s hopeful that something will come of this recent court decision, and said, “Even to hand it down I would be satisfied.”

The background notes for the Dec. 22 decision state, “The Moonlighter Policy was designed to encourage conservation, with limitations on the availability of licences and a ‘freeze’ on the reissuance of licences.”

The argument in Justice Elizabeth Heneghan’s decision to allow a judicial review stated: “In the Decision, the Minister describes the rationale behind categorization of lobster licences, which is the conservation and sustainability of the lobster fishery. She says that the rule against non-transferability of lobster licences “form[s] an integral party of these conservation and sustainability measures … In my opinion, the Decision is not responsive to the Applicant’s request to transfer his licence. In particular, the Decision does not explain how allowing the Applicant to transfer his licence to an eligible fisher undermines the goals of the policy.”

The question of conservation, as pertains to the approximately 80 existing Class B licences held in the Atlantic region, no longer applies as it once did in the 1970s when the Class B licences were instated.

Class B licences, issued under the so-called Moonlighter Policy in 1975, were implemented to “prevent the issuance of licences to people not fully dependent” on the lobster fishery; this would allow fewer harvesters to catch more lobster per person and “support conservation by reducing the fishing effort,” stated the respondent in the case, represented by Julia McCleave, Senior Advisor, Fisheries Licensing Policy, Fisheries and Oceans, in Dartmouth, in an affidavit.

In a Jan. 7 press release, Michel P. Samson of Cox and Palmer, the firm representing Category B licence holders, said, “Simply put, DFO is defending an outdated policy that no longer applies … It is time to move forward with a new policy that provides fair treatment to elderly fishers and beneficial opportunities to multiple parties, including DFO.”

Given the age of those impacted by the policy, time is of the essence. Samson said, “If DFO appeals this decision, it's basically sending the message that they're just waiting for our clients to die.”

The Federal Court of Canada decision can be found online at: https://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fc-cf/decisions/en/item/518367/index.do.

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal

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