[ST. JOHN'S, NL] — Fisheries Minister Darin King says he’s concerned about federal cutbacks to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) — but he’s going to reserve final judgment until he knows more.
King made the comments Saturday after touring the research vessel Celtic Explorer. Ironically, it’s a vessel leased with provincial money announced in 2010 by then-premier Danny Williams. The government of the day decided to do its own research on cod stocks after years of federal cutbacks.
The minister was asked to respond to a letter to the editor received by The Telegram from federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield.
In the letter, Ashfield reaffirms the federal government’s commitment to science at DFO, and highlights several areas where federal money has been spent locally to that end.
“We are proud of the excellent work done by our scientists and will continue to build on existing knowledge about our oceans, waterways, and fisheries resources.
“Our government understands that science is essential to the long-term sustainability of Canada’s fisheries.
Minister will ‘wait and see’
“Government must continually review its operations to make sure that taxpayer dollars are focused, and spent in a way to achieve the best results for Canadians, our marine environment and to address the needs of a changing world,” writes Ashfield.
According to the letter, the federal government spends $150 million on scientific programming. An additional $100 million has been invested in DFO research since the election of the Conservative government.
King acknowledged these investments, but said he remains concerned.
“I have to acknowledge that a lot of what I read in the letter is accurate. The federal government has made some investments in science and research. The issue for me is that we’re always concerned when their are cuts to front-line jobs,” said King.
The minister was referring to cutbacks announced in May, and previously in December, to both DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard.
“I have a great concern, with the greatest respect to the minister, in justifying what they’ve done. I have a great concern any time you take front-line workers out of the system as to whether or not you are going to continue with the same level of research,” said King.
But the minister stopped short of openly criticizing his federal counterparts.
“I’m not casting a judgment. I think I’ll wait and see what the work plan is and how they are going to deliver it. That will really tell the tale,” said King. “If they are able to adjust from the way they are doing the work, to the way they are going to do it in the future, with less workers, then I’m open to that.
“My focus has to be making sure the research, the surveillance and the science still gets done. If they do that differently, and still do it at the same level as they have in the past, well that’s fine. But I haven’t seen that yet.”
King said he intends to raise these, and other, issues with Ashfield when the two meet next week.
“We’ve got a host of topics. We want to talk to him about the sealing industry, and access to foreign markets in China and Russia, and where the prime minister is with that.
“We’re going to talk to him about obviously about codfish quotas here in the province. We have a plant here in Arnold’s Cove that employs 220 people, and they’re struggling right now to gain access to fish. I believe there are some changes the federal minister can make that would be very beneficial to that plant.
“We’re going to talk him about the recent cuts to DFO. We’re going to raise, of course, the Marine Rescue Sub-Centre, that continues to be significant issue for us in this province,” he said.
“It’s going to be an intensive couple of days. We have a lot of important issues to discuss.”