The Ontario Public Service Employee Union (OPSEU) is concerned after hearing the Ontario government might privatize the commercial fishery inspections on Lake Erie, saying it would put that industry at risk.
However, the provincial government says dock-side inspections – done by port observers or conservation officers – will continue to be done by ministry officials before catches go to commercially owned processing plants.
OPSEU said the privatization of fishery inspections could result in companies exploiting the system and overfishing.
“Can we really expect the commercial fishing companies to police themselves,” said Warren Thomas, OPSEU president, in a press release. “While business is good at making money, they’re terrible at following rules designed to protect safety and sustainability.”
OPSEU and the government both support the Commercial Fishing Tote Program, which allows commercial fishers to put their catches in large, sealed totes that then get delivered to the fish-processing plants. However, OPSEU doesn’t think the new tote program agreement will include dock-side checks, which the government says will continue.
The union says this would allow commercial fishers to bypass dock-side catch verifications by ministry port observers or conservation officers.
“The agreement does not circumvent the port observer’s role (Lake Erie management Unit’s compliance program) to inspect the catch,” Justine Lewkowics, a ministry spokesperson, said in an emailed statement. “The process has not changed.”
Even though OPSEU supports the tote program, the union said inspections done only at the fish-processing facilities and not at docks by ministry officials will lead to a lack of oversight. Len Elliot, OPSEU regional vice-president, said the commercial fisheries would be doing the inspections themselves.
“We see that as self-auditing,” he said. “What we worry about is that this opens the door to attempt to overfish the fishery without actual government autonomous people doing the oversight.”
Elliot said this would go against the ministry’s own mandate of protecting the Lake Erie fishery. If the companies are the only ones inspecting the catch numbers, they could be catching more than they claim, Elliot said.
“Instead of having a licence to fish you have a licence to steal,” he said.
The provincial government and OPSEU seem not to be on the same page on this issue, as Elliot said there was still confusion as to what’s going on.
“If this isn’t going to happen, then please say so,” he said. “We have concerns if this is happening as we understand it.”