RIVER JOHN - The head of the Northumberland Fishermen's Association is giving a double thumbs-up to the federal fisheries minister for preserving the foundation of their industry.
Ronnie Heighton, association president and a life-long fisherman in Cape John, was relieved to hear Friday's announcement by Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, clearing stating "the fleet separation and owner-operator policies in Atlantic Canada will remain intact."
"If he was a woman I'd kiss him," said Heighton, who also serves as the vice-president of the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters.
"Finally. It's like motherhood and apple pie," he said. "It means the fishing is done by small, independent fishermen and licences will not be in the hands of the big companies."
"As long as he stands behind it we've got it made."
He said the two previous federal fisheries ministers indicated they supported the policy 100 per cent.
"This is what frustrated the hell out of us, that he could let something erode that meant so much to the coastal communities."
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans policies of owner-operator and fleet separation, implemented in the late 1970s, support independent fishermen by requiring ownership and operation of their vessels and licences, and that processing plants could not directly own quota.
Earlier this year the federal government released a discussion paper, entitled The Future of Canada's Commercial Fisheries, which did not include mention of the owner-operator and fleet separation policies, causing great concern across Atlantic Canada.
"We wrote letters, upon letters," said Heighton. "We put together a coalition with 38 other organizations to prove the fact the owner-operator fleet separation policy should be maintained."
More than 11,000 submissions were sent requesting the policy be maintained.
The president said fishermen have been waiting for months to find out if the policy would be preserved with little communication from government.
"Everybody got the same response - ‘there's nothing off the table and everything is under review,"' he said. "We never got a straight answer."
Heighton said as early as last week, the association's executive director met with the federal minister in Truro to discuss the policy.
"We got the same story we got all along."
Darryl MacIvor, Lismore fisherman and president of Maritime Fishermen's Union Local 4, said the positive outcome was a result of a concerted effort of industry members from coast to coast who believed strongly in the preservation of the policy.
"It's a good day," said MacIvor. "We put all our efforts together."
He said fishermen were looking to the future and fully realized the devastation that could occur within the industry if the policy was scrapped.
"I think there is work to be done yet, but this is a good first step," said the union president.
MacIvor said the industry is changing and in the future there will be fewer fishing boats in the water.
"We are working to answer the question how do we move forward from here to make whoever is left in the fishery more viable," he said. "We'll be leading the charge when it comes to change."