New Brunswick lobster fishermen are afraid of the impact of the operational budget cut. (Photo: Stock File/FIS)
Govt cuts DFO's budget by USD 77mln
Thursday, May 31, 2012, 04:30 (GMT + 9)
The federal government has announced that it would cut the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’s (DFO) operational budget by CAD 79.3 million (USD 77.4 million) over three years. This will mean 400 fewer people in its workforce, and fisheries groups and academics worry this will jeopardise the country’s fishery.
DFO will close three of its fisheries offices in Nova Scotia, but Mélanie Carkner, a spokesperson for the department, said officers “will be consolidated in larger, better resourced offices” and that this will not result in fewer officers, CBC News reports.
Still Maria Recchia, executive director of the Fundy North Fishermen's Association in New Brunswick, noted that no government scientist will be left to study the impact of aquaculture pesticides on the marine ecosystem.
"If our fishermen discover a lobster that has been killed, who will study how they died? Will fishermen have to pay private scientists to do this work?" she asked, The Canadian Press reports.
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield’s spokesperson Erin Filliter defended the cuts, asserting that research will still be done.
"In lieu of in-house research on the biological effects of contaminants and pesticides, the department will establish an advisory group and research fund of CAD 1.4 million (USD 1.37 million) a year to work with academia and other independent facilities to get advice on priority issues and ensure departmental priorities are met," she said.
But Recchia slammed this statement.
"I think it would be challenging to get unbiased research when it's very likely that the research is going to be funded by the industries that are being examined," she opined.
Peter Hodson, a biology professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, is also concerned.
"Effectively there will be absolutely no capacity within Fisheries and Oceans to measure chemicals, let alone comment on them. That's pretty disturbing," he said.
Hodson and about 100 other academics, business leaders and government employees signed a letter sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper this week urging him to undo the cuts related to chemical contamination and toxicity to aquatic species. The protesters highlighted DFO’s responsibilities to Canadians under the Fisheries Act, including the protection of fish, fisheries and human health from pollutants discharged to coastal waters, estuaries and inland waters.
The letter’s authors say that an absence of first-class scientists means the federal government will not be able to respond to fisheries crises.
DFO said part of a Nova Scotia-based oil spill research group will be eliminated. Hodson commented that in-house scientific expertise is now more important than ever given increased oil exploration in the Arctic and the possible export of oil sands through the West Coast.
"It's not to say that we're going to lose the fish, but if we don't protect them, we could certainly do a hell of a lot of damage," he insisted.
By Natalia Real