Fishing for a Solution: Canada's Fisheries Relations with the European Union, 1977-2013, Donald Barry, Bob Applebaum, and Earl Wiseman.
University of Calgary Press, 2014.
Publisher's Book Profile
Paper: xvi+150pp. Paperback $34.95
Fishing for a Solution is a concise, compelling and objective perspective on the complex relationship between Canada and the European Union (EU) resulting from entangled interests in the North Atlantic fishery. From 1977 until 2013, the EU underwent significant political changes, expanding its membership to include countries vested in the North Atlantic fishery. By examining this history, the book also prepares the reader to face the impact of the pending Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which is set to end most tariffs between the two entities. (At the time of writing CETA remains unratified, but in my opinion it has significant momentum despite opposition in Canada.)
The book begins by examining the political climate leading to the Long Term Agreement on Fisheries (that introduced the now infamous "200 mile limit" in 1977), and the creation of the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) in 1979 to set agreeable fishing quotas. The authors detail the bold effort by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (1919-2000) to Canadianize vast swaths of ocean to the detriment of European nations with long histories of fishing in the Northwest Atlantic (Great Britain as an example). Despite the acrimony, Canada succeeded in creating a 200 mile "Exclusive Economic Zone," from the outer limits of its territory (although sadly fish don't recognize these man-made treaties). Shamefully, during this period Canadian trade representatives began using Newfoundland fishing rights as a bargaining tool with the EU to arrange better deals for other Canadian industries. In other words, Newfoundlanders recognized that Ottawa was prepared to sacrifice the province's resources for the benefit of central Canada (an injustice still prevalent in the minds of Newfoundland and Labradorians today).
The second chapter, "From Conflict to Cooperation," details the cod moratorium, a dark period in Newfoundland's history that is entrenched in the psyche of the island, much like the battle of Beaumont Hamel in 1916 or the 1969 Churchill Falls Agreement. In the late 1980's it became clear to fishermen that large concentrations of Atlantic cod were available outside the 200 mile limit (an area commonly referred to as the "Nose" of the Grand Banks). When Spain and Portugal joined the EU in 1986, they pressured the union to set its own quotas on the "Nose," which were five times higher than those placed on Canadian fishermen. "Canadian government officials had speculated that when Spain and Portugal joined the Union, their fisheries would be constrained by EU's policy," note the authors, yet "the Spanish and Portuguese thought otherwise, and they would be proven right" (p.32).
The tension between the EU and Canada within NAFO is another prevalent theme in the book. Sadly, cooperation within NAFO only began when the scientific reality of the collapsing cod stocks could no longer be ignored. When the cod moratorium was finally announced in 1992, 40,000 fish workers in Atlantic Canada (27,000 of them in Newfoundland) were put out of work. The authors give a fair assessment of the scale of the carnage within the economy of Atlantic Canada and the political challenge of managing the crisis. It was unquestionably a defining moment in the political career of John Crosbie, the Newfoundland M.P. and Federal Fisheries Minister, and the authors recount his personal challenges with several interesting quotes from the witty firebrand. The period of the moratorium is somber reading for fishermen and in many communities the wound has not yet healed. In fact, to this day a candid discussion with any Newfoundlander on the merits of the moratorium will tax even the most well-endowed liquor cabinet.
Finally, the volume details the "Turbot War" and more recent conflicts within NAFO. Throughout, the authors reiterate that the fishing industry and the relationship between Canada and the EU is conflict ridden. Moreover, while commercial opportunities in the North Atlantic fishery are limited, that has not stopped politicians from earning political fortunes. The Turbot War, for example, made Brian Tobin a household name throughout Canada and ultimately put him into the Newfoundland premier's office. For readers less interested in the mechanics of bilateral trade, the account of Tobin's role in the Turbot War as the Canadian Minister of Fisheries is worth the read.
What is truly unique about Fishing for a Solution is the impartial nature by which these conflicts are discussed (incredibly rare in the literature of such a politicized industry). For readers vested in the fishery, however, this impartiality can be frustrating. The authors' ability to collate such a myriad of tangled legislation demonstrates serious scholarship and a thorough understanding of the industry, and so their personal views on some of the more contentious issues, the Newfoundland cod moratorium and the "Turbot Wars"s for example, would have been welcomed. Similarly, the book would have been enhanced with some commentary on CETA, which was in negotiation at the time of publication. Failing to offer an expert opinion on an agreement of such importance to the fishery is a missed opportunity. Perhaps the authors were concerned it would politicize their work or perhaps they wanted to wait until the agreement was ratified before lending an opinion. These, of course, are minor quibbles on a fine body of work that provides a balanced historical context for any political discussion on "the fishery."
Ultimately, Fishing for a Solution is an excellent read for those seeking a concise summary of the North Atlantic cod fishery in the modern political era (a significant challenge given the unfathomable number of stakeholders and agreements involved during this relatively brief period). It is also a 'must have' for academics or students exploring this area, and even for fishing industry stakeholders who will benefit from its period-based structure, strict timeline and valuable appendixes. Furthermore, in my opinion, it is a must read for all bureaucrats (at every level) or politicians involved with Canadian - read Newfoundland and Labrador - fishing industry policy.
Josh Taylor is a strategist, entrepreneur and lecturer in the Faculty of Business at Memorial University of Newfoundland. A graduate of Mount Allison University, he holds post-graduate degrees in Math and Finance from the University of Waterloo and the Manchester Business School. Before returning to Newfoundland to open his own private consulting practice, Josh gained international experience in the energy industry working as an analyst with ESB International, the largest energy utility in Ireland. A native of Grand Falls, he lives in St. John's with his wife Megan.