An investigation by Radio-Canada Acadie has revealed a list of names of crab fishermen who had their boat-building loans forgiven by the provincial government.
In 2016, the public learned that from 2000 to 2008, the New Brunswick government spent approximately $10 million to erase the debts of 15 fishermen. They were given loans in the 1980s and 1990s as part of a provincial lending program organized by the department of Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Fisheries.
At the time of the discovery in June 2016, the loan program, known as "Fishermen's Loan Board" was criticized by the former executive director of the fishermen's union, Jean St. Cyr, as a "program with good intentions, but from a financial point of view, didn't make any sense."
Fishermen speak out
Paul Noël, a longtime crab fisherman from Lamèque, was surprised to read the list of fishermen — his colleagues.
"I knew that some of them had their debts forgiven, crab and shrimp fishermen, but I didn't know there were so many crab fishermen. I don't understand, the majority of fishermen have to pay for their boats," he said
"I had debts like the others, and I paid them off."
Noël believes that since the price of crab has risen, most fishermen should have the means to make payments on their boat loans.
Other fishermen have pointed out that many on the list of forgiven debts are Progressive Conservative supporters.
"I paid for two boats, and I don't understand why they haven't been able to pay for theirs. Maybe it's politics," said Gildard Haché, a retired Pointe-Sauvage fisherman.
He says the fishermen received a "nice gift."
Some shrimp fishermen ended up amassing debts more expensive than the value of their boats. Former Liberal MLA Bernard Thériault believes that in these cases, the move to forgive the debts by the provincial government was justified.
"The debt started growing even before the boat was in the water. Sometimes, it was the fault of the fishermen, and sometimes it wasn't," he said.
Thériault believes the file should be studied further.