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Vol. 5, No. 1


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Review: Writing the Rules of Ecological Fisheries Management in the Bay of Fundy

Who should write the rules for fisheries management?
By Jon Percy

Writing the Rules of Ecological Fisheries Management in the Bay of Fundy. 
Bay of Fundy Marine Resource Centre and Conservation Council of New Brunswick in collaboration with the Bay of Fundy Fisheries Council. 
Editors: Arthur Bull, David Coon and Maria Recchia, 
May, 2000. 30 pp.

The collapse of important fisheries around the world has cast a spotlight on the manner in which fish resources have been managed - some would say mismanaged - by national governments. Inevitably there has been a lot of finger pointing and a flurry of suggestions for reforming a flawed system.

Many calls for change have come from the larger players in the fishing industry; namely governments, fish plant owners and large trawler fleet operators. Perhaps not surprisingly, many have pushed for a type of private ownership model touted by some economists as step toward "economic efficiency" that will resolve the problems of the world's fisheries. 

But to the front line majority involved in the fisheries, namely the small-scale, independent inshore fishermen, such privatization is seen as little more than an opportunistic grab by industrialists and multinational corporations. Many of them prefer the community management approach that has been compellingly spelled out in a slender volume entitled Writing the Rules of Ecological Fisheries Management in the Bay of Fundy. The publication calls for a two-pronged initiative involving "community-based fisheries management that takes an ecosystem approach."

The publication is also noteworthy in that it represents a synthesis of the views of large numbers of traditional fishermen from all around the Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy Fisheries Council (BFFC), an umbrella organization for 14 diverse fisheries groups in the region, engaged more than 100 fishermen in a series of "kitchen table" and "community hall" discussions about how they would like to see their fisheries managed.

There was consensus on two basic principles for fisheries management. First, local community-based groups should be primarily responsible for the "stewardship and management of all adjacent fisheries resources and the ecosystems that support them." Secondly, any decisions about the management of a fishery should be at the "most local level possible." In addition, there was agreement on several ecological principles that should guide the operations of a fishery. These included measures to protect fish stocks and their habitats, diversification of fishing livelihoods, promotion of small-scale fisheries and continued public ownership of marine resources. 

While there is likely to be little argument about the ecological aspects, some of the management concepts will undoubtedly come under careful scrutiny. If there is to be a real shift in responsibility from the federal and provincial to the local level then a great deal of work remains to be done in developing effective community organizational structures to carry out the task. The proposal calls for Local Management Boards (LMBs) as the fundamental, front-line units of the management hierarchy. Issues of broader geographic scope would be the referred to Regional Coordinating Councils comprising representatives from LMBs. The definition of "community" and the question of who should sit on the LMBs and what authority these should have are going to be contentious issues. 

Much remains to be done to advance these proposals and to convince those now in control of fisheries management of their feasibility and desirability. The report's authors are clearly aware of this in concluding that the results of this project "are only tools" and that "the real impact of the project will depend on how we use these tools." It is clear, however, that in participating actively in this exercise, the fishermen of Fundy have staked out a solid claim to a much larger role in managing the marine resources on which they and their communities depend.