"I didn't take the fish from the God damn water."
Minister of Fisheries & Oceans
July 02, 1992
I like John Crosbie. I loved the cut of his jib. His stubborn independence. His refusal to adapt to a hypocritical culture of political correctness where people laugh in private, but act offended in public. Perhaps, no one single individual carried as much weight at the federal cabinet table as he did during the tenure of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
He delivered Hibernia, when oil prices were so low that the project did not present a good investment. He ensured the federal government purchased shares when one of the partners pulled out. He also oversaw the negotiation of the roads for rails agreement and the cod moratorium.
Like the title to his autobiography, "No Holds Barred", the current Lieutenant Governor of the Province recounted his experience as a federal cabinet minister in the dark days of the first Total Allowable Catches, the announcement of Moratorium on Northern Cod Fishery and the subsequent battles around the cabinet table for federal assistance for the 20,000 fishermen and plant workers that were thrown out of work.
I was more of active participant in the political process in the years leading up to, and during the early days of the Moratorium, which a few years later included the South Coast where my father was an inshore fisherman. I was at the hotel when the announcement was made. It was an emotional, unsettling and depressing day.
In 1988/1990, I worked as the Executive Assistant to Hon. Roger Simmons, P.C., The Member of Parliament for Burin-St. Georges. Roger was one of the Liberal Fisheries critics. We were bombarded by actors from environmentalists and fisherman who correctly predicted the impact of the unsustainable TACs, to the processors and local mayors of fish plant towns, who shrugged off the concerns, to scientists who claimed they were being directed by political actors to "fudge the numbers"
Huge cuts in the TAC were not an option. Crosbies predecessors Fraser, Siddon and Valcourt (before his motorcycle accident) ignored the warnings. Crosbie may not have "taken the fish from the god dammed water" but the Mulroney government ignored the warnings, opting to allow the environment/ecological disaster to pass the tipping point to near extinction.
I suppose, it is expected that Crosbie would like to offer a revisionist account of his role in the debacle that lead to the collapse of the Northern Cod Stocks. The impact of over-fishing, inside and outside the 200 mile limit, the impact of pollution from the populous American Eastern Seaboard, the environmental and ecological impacts of gear designed to high grade available stocks, the impact of greed by fisherman, processors and politicians, and unsustainable total allowable catch rates conspired to create an ecological, social and economic disaster, from which we may never fully recover.
The most reoccurring theme, even twenty years later is the refusal of anyone to accept their role in this ongoing catastrophe. In his interview with the CBC, Crosbie blamed poor science, squarely placing the blame for the collapse on fishery scientists who he claimed offered poor advice. Scientists will blame politicians who refused to listen to the real numbers because they did not want to deal with the fall-out of sharply reduced TACs and the impact they would have on fisherman, plant-workers, processors and the rural economy. Trawler- men in this province blame it on overfishing by European Nations on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks. They conveniently forget that they too over-fished, that they high graded catches - dumping tons of dead fish back into the ocean.
20 years later, there is still lots of blame to go around and very little accountability for what has happened to our rural way of life.