Guy Johnstone is cautiously optimistic about the federal government’s decision to hold an emergency review of the new regulations regarding frozen-at-sea spot prawns.
Johnstone, a fisherman in Cowichan Bay who operates the Michelle Rose Community Supported Fishery, said the decision by the federal Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to conduct a review of the regulations that make the sale of frozen-at-sea spot prawns illegal for the first time is a step in the right direction.
“It’s hard to say if the review will accomplish anything, but I’m happy the issue is being taken seriously,” he said.
“So far, due to pressure from the public, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada has said that, as far as they are concerned, defying the new regulations is a contravention of the law, but they won’t enforce the regulations in 2021. But that’s just punting it down the line. Fishers and the communities need this changed and we need a long-term solution to this issue.”
DFO’s objection to freezing spot prawns on fishing boats is in reference to a reinterpretation of the regulation requiring all harvested products to be readily available for measurement by enforcement officers on fishing boats.
The measurements are typically done while the prawns are still alive on the sorting tables and, up until now, if they were already frozen, the fishermen would be required to thaw the prawns so they could be measured.
But DFO has recently determined that frozen-at-sea spot prawns are no longer considered readily available for measurement, and are no longer allowed, which could effectively stop the sale of all frozen spot-prawns to Canadian markets, including local ones that many fishermen, including Johnstone, depend on for much of their income.
That raised a furor in local fishing communities and politicians, including Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan–Malahat–Langford, as well as Vancouver Island NDP MPs Gord Johns and Rachel Blaney, got involved.
MacGregor sent a letter to Ken McDonald, chairman of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, asking that DFO review the regulations and Gord Johns, who is the critic for Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard, successfully moved a motion in the House of Commons asking for an emergency review.
MacGregor said that while a projected start date for the review has not yet been determined, committee members did indicate their support that it be the next study they do, and he expects the review to begin by mid-May.
“I am pleased to learn that the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has heeded my call for an emergency study,” MacGregor said.
“This is the result of tireless advocacy from the BC Prawn Industry Caucus, Vancouver Island NDP MPs Rachel Blaney and Gord Johns, and our concerned constituents,” he said.
“I would encourage everyone involved to continue putting pressure on Ottawa by signing petitions and writing the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Bernadette Jordan.”