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Address to Convocation

Augustus (Gus) Etchegary

I wish to thank the members of the Senate and the selection committee of Memorial for the great honour you have bestowed on me and to thank my family, my relatives and friends who participated in the nomination process. I hardly know how to address Dr. Staveley, I must say that it was overwhelming, my sincere thanks to Dr. Staveley for her very kind and generous introduction. In reference to her remarks I must say that during my career I have had the full support of my family, friends and hundreds of associates in our company, all of whom have made it possible for me to receive this honour.

We extend congratulations to the graduates on their great achievement and wish them every success in your chosen careers and possibly remind them they have opportunity every day to shape the future they want for themselves and their families. N&L is facing great challenges in the years ahead and they have a leading role to play in dealing with these challenges. We are counting on these young men and women, in the days ahead, to provide leadership to meet those challenges.

Included in those challenges is the restoration of our devastated fishery which was the economic base of this island of N&L for five hundred years.

In the time available we want to focus your attention on the current state of Canada’s East Coast fisheries and particularly those adjacent to N&L, where coastal communities are having a tough time trying to survive. Hopefully we can encourage your participation in attempting to persuade, the powers that be, particularly those in Ottawa to comply with its commitment that was made under the Terms of Union in 1949 which was to sustainably manage and conserve what was one of the most prolific fisheries in the world.

Over the years we have had the opportunity to become familiar with fisheries in other countries and gain some insight in how successful their Governments have been in managing their renewable resources for their people. Some countries, unfortunately, including Canada, have failed in that respect while others have been very successful. Those include Norway, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, and Alaska in the US and some others are high on that list. They are all, unfortunately, miles and miles ahead of Canada and many other countries in fisheries management.

My own participation in the fishery began in the mid 1940s. At that time three events were occurring that would have had a lasting impact on the people and the economic and social structure of N&L.

1) We were about to surrender our independence and enter Confederation with Canada;

2) The 500 year old salt-fish Industry was in transition with the new frozen fish industry; and

3) A number of European Countries had been devastated by the unprecedented destruction caused by World War Two. Their economies had been destroyed to a large extent and there was a serious shortage of food. Their Governments decided that one of the solutions was to convert their numerous naval shipyards to the construction of large fishing trawlers to provide protein for their hungry populations.

This series of events has had a major impact on the economic and social lives of the people in N&L since 1949.

When we entered Confederation, Ottawa, under the Terms of Union took over management responsibility of our fisheries and did so largely for the purpose of jurisdiction and the application of regulatory measures and enforcement regimes. Our fishery at that time was so large, important and valuable that it actually elevated Canada from 14th to 6th place as a world fish-exporting nation. Because of its size and diversity of this great resource, it attracted that newly-constructed fishing armada from war-torn Europe and by 1960, 11 years after Confederation, there were over a thousand trawlers and 50,000 men from Western European and East-Bloc countries were fishing off the Coast of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Grand Banks. Unfortunately for N&L, they were allowed to fish in an uncontrolled and unrestricted fashion from Labrador to the Grand Banks to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

It’s very important to understand here, most people don’t, that foreign overfishing, that we faced for over 40 years, the failure of NAFO and Canada’s failure to manage our fisheries affects N&L only it does not have any impact on the Maritime Provinces fishing industry. This accounts for the fact that we have been alone in our battle trying to get something done about overfishing a problem since 1978.

Extension of jurisdiction, in 1978, by Canada to two hundred miles came far too late and did not provide protection for migrating fish stocks since it did not encompass the total Continental Shelf. Renowned DFO scientist very well know here at MUN, Dr. Wilfred Templeman, and many others, had publicly warned the Trudeau Govt. in 1971 that our fisheries were already at that time in sharp decline and effective conservation measures were essential to halt the massacre. Ottawa paid no attention to these warnings and mismanagement of the diminishing resource continued for the next twenty years until it finally collapsed in 1992. Then the Federal Govt. announced a two-year moratorium to give the resource a rest, but it applied only to Canadian fishermen with foreign fishing nations continuing their destructive fishing practices on the Grand Banks by the way, those destructive practices are as prevalent today as then and don’t let DFO’s propaganda, through its Communication Branch, try to convince you otherwise.

The DFO two-year moratorium has now existed for sixteen years, foreign fishing continues unabated and there is still virtually no sign of stock recovery. Ottawa has still not developed a plan to rebuild the fishery and it appears the Federal Govt. have completely abandoned its responsibility to the people of this province. Its fisheries policy almost daily sends a clear message that rebuilding the resource we delivered to Ottawa in 1949, is not a priority for the Federal Govt. For example, fishery science which is absolutely essential for sound management has had its federal budget cut in half over the last fifteen years by DFO as a result we have less and less knowledge of the true state of the stocks.

By the way only yesterday on Fishery Broadcast, the Minister of fisheries announced that of the three remaining research vessels, all three of which were built quite a long time ago and spent just about half of their time in port for maintenance, one of the three is being removed for service and to add to that there was a long hurang about the fact that, despite the fact, this one vessel out of three is being removed, it will anyway interfere or create a problem for the stock assessment. Even if the Federal Government has in the background which some people feel, lets says that they have formally agreed and decided to abandon the fishery in this province.

The thing about it, you know, that even if the Federal Govt. has formally decided to abandon the fishing population of this Province, one would think that Canada with its reputation as a responsible world nation would, for humanitarian reasons, rebuild this renewable, high protein food supply to feed the 2 billion people, in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, who face hunger every day of their lives.

One thing is certain: Without a restored ground fishery, the future of N&L coastal and rural communities is dismally poor. This situation is obvious to anyone who wants to face reality. Like Bell Island and Buchans non-renewable mineral resources, so many other communities in N&L, face a bleak future after Oil and Gas and Voisey’s Bay non-renewable resources have terminated production.

The overwhelming question confronting our younger generation, our leaders of tomorrow and in particularly the graduates of Memorial and other educational institutions in this Province is: “WHAT’S BEYOND OIL AND GAS and VOISEY’S BAY” for our people?????. What will this place look like in 25 years or 50 years?? We must remember that it is our responsibility to safeguard the future potential of N&L for our grand children and great grand children.

Of course, there will be some benefits while these non-renewables last. But while we now have these non-renewables, why are we not forcing our Federal Govt. to honour commitments made when we entered Confederation and rebuild our devastated fisheries up to the level it was when we entered Confederation; when we elevated Canada to sixth place as a fish-exporting nation.

Norway, one of major competitors in the international fish market, has been for years transferring large sums of Gas and Oil revenues to the modernization of its renewable fisheries and ensuring its sustainable management. As a result, Norway today is a world leader in fishery management and technology with the long-term future of its fishery and its large fishing population fully secured.

Our plea today is to our younger generation in general, to the graduates of Memorial, the Marine Institute and other related institutions and especially to the Board of Regents of Memorial to try to encourage government, to place our renewable fisheries at the forefront of our priorities in shaping the economic and social future of N&L. We must use every means available to us to force all our elected politicians, especially those in the Federal Govt., to take whatever steps necessary to rebuild our wild fishery to ensure our long term future.

The immediate future of our Provincial economy is bright, especially inside the overpass, but unless we now seize the opportunity to restore the economic base that has sustained all of N&L for centuries, we will have failed miserably.

Successive Federal and Provincial Govts, to date have failed to recognize the enormous economic impact the collapse of our fishery has had on the economy of N&L. When DFO announced the 1992 this moratorium we lost over 15,000 jobs in the Province from the harvesting, processing, marketing and the goods and service sectors of the fishing industry. As a result and we all know this, 80,000 people have left the Province. Many will never return. Yet there is hardly a protest to Ottawa from our Provincial Govt, the Fisheries Assn, Fed. of Municipalities, the Board of Trade, the Fishery Union or even the local press. We appear to be quite content to let the Federal Govt. renege on the commitment to sustainably manage our fisheries made in the terms of Union when we entered Confederation.

Without a revitalized and modernized fishery our coastal communities and many urbanized distribution centers around the Province will not survive in the long term. So here is the challenge to our new graduates, to those young well-educated young men and women have an opportunity to give something back to N&L for the great opportunity you now have to make a real difference in this land we love so much. Step up to the plate, take a leadership role in demanding Federal Fisheries comply with the Terms of Union, that they rebuild the fishery to the level delivered to Ottawa in 1949. Investigate, delve deeply into the causes and effects of their abject failure to manage and conserve our fishery. And under no circumstances give up the fight until you succeed.

The best of luck in your careers.