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Fishing for development

Tara Kearsey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Sep 09/02) - It's no wonder Carey Bonnell chose fisheries as his career.

Originally from a small coastal fishing village in Newfoundland, Bonnell's family made a living off the resources found in the North Atlantic waters. Bonnell is now the director of fisheries and sealing for the Department of Sustainable Development.

News/North: How did your background in the Newfoundland fishery influence your career choice?

Carey Bonnell: I guess it was an easy career choice. I was born and raised in the fishing industry. My family fished for lobster and cod growing up in a small fishing vessel off the northern peninsula of Newfoundland. My family kicked me out of the boat at an early age and told me there was no future in the fishing industry in Newfoundland, but I guess I tricked them. I guess it's in the blood, as they say. I didn't become a fisherman but I studied fisheries in university and that's pretty much what got me to where I am.

N/N: What is it that intrigued you about the industry?

CB: When you see it and live it everyday of your life growing up. And, for one reason, seeing all the hardships with the collapse of the cod fishery in the late '80s and early '90s, I saw a lot of friends leave the province. It was a very tough time for a lot of small fishing villages in coastal Newfoundland. I guess I saw it as an area that I wanted to make a difference.

N/N: So how did the cod moratorium affect you and your family?

CB: I graduated from high school in 1991, which was just before the moratorium, but the effects were already being felt. I had a number of close friends in high school who had actually moved after graduation and that was basically the destination of most of the small fishing villages on the northern peninsula and in other areas. It certainly hit close to home and to go back now and see, it's quite similar in many ways. Populations have been cut in half in many communities and it's certainly not an enjoyable thing.

N/N: Did you work in fisheries in Newfoundland?

CB: Yeah, I worked with the Marine Institute in St. John's for a year as a technologist, doing projects, developing curriculum for responsible fishery. And I also took a one-year internship to the Philippines with the Marine Institute's international office and that was a great experience.

N/N: What differences and comparisons do you see in the Nunavut fishery as compared with the Newfoundland fishery?

CB: I would place the comparisons probably closer to coastal Labrador than I would as much to Newfoundland. We need to start looking at developing our basic infrastructure, small craft harbour and port facilities and then we can move forward in this industry. That is going to be key.

So, in many ways, I don't think we need to look at re-inventing the wheel in Nunavut. We need to be careful and look at the past misusage that has taken place in Atlantic Canada to make sure that we don't "over-capacitize." But, with that being said, I think a lot of opportunities exist for further development here. So it's very similar.

N/N: What do we need to focus on in Nunavut?

CB: I think what we need to focus on is to ensure that development takes place while keeping conservation in mind, and to look at making development decisions based on available resources.

N/N: Do you know of many Newfoundland fishers who have moved to Nunavut in search of employment?

CB: Not so much Newfoundland fishermen, but lots of Newfoundlanders.

N/N: So what is your biggest challenge as the director of fisheries and sealing?

CB: If we look at it from a development standpoint, our role is economic development and trying to provide benefits to coastal communities in Nunavut. The biggest challenge is infrastructure. As I have mentioned, we need basic infrastructure to develop fisheries and look at inshore and offshore development. We need a place to offload and re-supply.

For example, at the height of the summer fishing season there is probably 15 to 20 fishing vessels out in the Davis Strait, Baffin Bay area. These vessels need to re-supply now, they need to offload if they have mechanical problems and they often have to go either to Greenland or go back south to Newfoundland and Labrador.

If we had the basic infrastructure -- something of a deep-sea port facility in the eastern Baffin region. What you're looking at is not just fisheries opportunities but spin-off opportunities. You're looking at opportunities from the offloading and trans-shipment of product. I wouldn't be able to stress the benefits, in terms of the economic extent, that would result from that.

We're (also) hoping to see DFO and the federal government as a whole to start focusing on scientific research programs in the North. We just finished a three-year program with DFO, in conjunction with the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board. It was a project on Greenland halibut. I've seen the benefits of that, the effects have been tremendous. So what we want to see is the continuation and an expansion into other resources such as shrimp. We've gone for years without research on shrimp in Northern waters and it's well overdue and that's going to be key. Obviously, another key area is going to be funding. There is certainly a lack of funding right now to support development in Nunavut. It's somewhat frustrating. We know the opportunities are there but in many cases the funding is not there to carry it out. And I guess the final challenge, but I think it's more of an opportunity, is we need to start focusing more on training activities.

N/N: Are you optimistic about the development of the fishery over the next few years?

CB: I am extremely optimistic. If we look at the progress we have made in the last two or more years alone, we've seen an expansion of the turbot fishery and Greenland halibut fishery by about 4,000 tonnes. And, more importantly, we've seen the formation of the Baffin Fisheries Coalition and their mandate. I think its membership in the Eastern Baffin region and communities that are actively involved in the fishing industry are already seeing the benefits from that.

We use the example of our marine resources as having the greatest potential in Canada as an emerging industry because we really don't know the full extent of our Greenland halibut resource, we don't know the full extent of our shrimp resource, and we don't know if there are other resources that can be further developed such as crab, redfish and other species. These are areas that have tremendous potential but it's only going to come with time and with some funding for core research and test fishery activities.