Newfoundland: Why "the cod rots from the head" and other fishy tales

By GARY ZATZMAN

(HALIFAX ) -- At the end of May, there was a flurry of reports about a couple of Portuguese fishing trawlers, the Brites and the Aveirense, "insolently" refusing to allow Canadian fisheries inspections for suspected violations of international net mesh regulations on the edge of the 200-mile limit, in the vicinity of what are known as the Tail and the Flemish Cap of the Grand Banks.

Both ships have returned to their home ports in Portugal. The Portuguese government permitted European Union (EU) inspections, in accordance with the terms set out in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) protocol that governs Portugal's fishery outside Canada's 200-mile limit, while continuing to bar Canada from inspecting -- a procedure not sanctioned anywhere either within the NAFO Protocols or similar protocols applied to some other international fisheries off the coasts of Africa, Latin America or in Oceania.

After failing to apprehend the Brites outside the 200-mile limit earlier in the month, Canadian Coast Guard personnel returned to St. John's, displaying a trawl of under-sized mesh full of under-age American plaice which reportedly had been cut adrift by the Brites during the chase.

A huge hullabaloo was whipped up in the Newfoundland and national media alleging arrogance on the part of Portugal -- which has been fishing the Grand Banks for only the last 450 years, even preceding by about a century Newfoundland's colonization by the British. The "usual suspects" from the present and former executive ranks of the Fishery Products International (FPI) fish processing monopoly demanded once again that Canada be the enforcer of NAFO rules beyond the 200-mile limit, and put a stop to illegal foreign fishing. The federal Fisheries Minister, Regan in Halifax, on the brink of a federal election call, just as predictably promised great reforms to come, which were -- again, like a broken record -- panned throughout the press as "too little too late." Various commentators went to work once again, harping on the gap that has never been bridged, either before Confederation in 1949 or since, between Canadians' and Newfoundlanders' appreciation of the significance of the northwest Atlantic fisheries.

What are we to make of this?

Behind this campaign is a determined effort to further assert monopoly right and crush any and every demand for recognition of the dignity of labour. Less than six weeks prior, more than 20,000 government employees were striking against the threats of the new Danny Williams government to fire four to six thousand people over the next four years and other blackmail pressures to force a two-year wage freeze and other concessions down the workers' throats in their pending collective agreement.

When they were legislated back to work, there was tremendous support shown across Canada, reflecting the reality that the working class in Newfoundland is part and parcel of the Canadian working class and connected with it as flesh is to bone. The rich became more than a little concerned to attack this unified front. Presenting the fisheries policy of the Canadian government -- a tool of their monopolies for exploiting all sections of the people across Canada including Newfoundland and Labrador -- as an assault on this occasion once again by "Canadians" on the rights of "Newfoundlanders" is a tailor-made opportunity.

There are other factors. Behind this campaign loom serious, ongoing and ever deepening inter-monopoly and inter-imperialist contradictions and rivalries. It is a fact that about one year ago, FPI was scrambling quite desperately to crush compensation demands of fishermen who were landing its shrimp catches. It pleaded poverty on the grounds that the EU had erected a 20 per cent tariff against imports of shrimp from sources outside the EU, thus undercutting FPI in that market and justifying starving their own fishermen out. In May, FPI was the only fish processor supporting and egging on the government's campaign against the Portuguese vessels. Portugal's fleets participate as part of the EU, under arrangements dating back to the establishment of the 200-mile limit in 1977, when the Canadian government allotted more than 88 per cent of the fish stocks in advance to foreign fleets in order to obtain their governments' compliance with Canada's extension of its jurisdiction offshore.

It is no secret that Newfoundlanders' speech is laden with pithy expressions, especially against the rich and their system. Asked his opinion of the Williams government's speed at legislating an end to the strike after promising a "new era in labour relations" just a few short months before during the privincial elections, one government worker explained the underlying corruption and double-dealing this way: "The cod rots from the head."

Add to this the fact that, along with having the Canadian government attack the EU over fishing activities in international waters while keeping silent about the treacherous sellout of resources under Canada's own jurisdiction, in May FPI was scrambling to sign deals in China.

This makes it ever clearer just how fishy a tale the Canadian and Newfoundland governments and media in their service, with their anti-"foreign fishing" hysteria, are trying to sell the workers about their actual aims, not to mention out of whose hides the payment will be extracted.


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