Lessons just don’t sink in

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Just what do people not get about a natural resource being limited? Considering the history in this part of the world of seeing a fishery decimated, it’s mind-boggling that blind profiteering trumps conservation – and some are ready to do it again.

The Arctic is increasingly being pegged as Canada’s next frontier, with much salivation over the potential of a variety of resources. Turbot stocks number among those.

But – and this should ring some bells – scientists at Memorial University in Newfoundland are reported by The Canadian Press as saying Canada is expanding that fishery without knowing much about it. Economic activity in Nunavut is welcome, but preferably it will last indefinitely, otherwise the value is seriously limited. A similar pattern was played out decades ago with the cod off Newfoundland to the point of collapse.

These scientists are saying that a basic understanding of the turbot stocks in the north is lacking, such as the species’ reproduction and growth rates. Four companies are fishing off the coast of Baffin Island using both gill nets and trawlers. The scientists claim some of the fishing vessels are already harvesting too many small fish and fall in violation of federal guidelines.

The gradual loss of ice cover in the Arctic is often mentioned in the same breath as prospects of increased opportunities to exploit resources there.

The Canadian government has made clear its intention to beef up presence in the northern waters. That’s the long-range plan, but it appears in this case that development has the head start – off to the races ahead of a strong enough presence to monitor the fishery and enforce regulations.

Even that begs another question: will there be sufficient political will to regulate this fishery on the conservative side – particularly, as the scientists say, since it’s not well enough understood? Reluctance to curtail activity in other areas in decades past aided their demise.

It’s turbot today. What’s next?

Organizations: Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canadian Press

Geographic location: Arctic, Canada, Nunavut Newfoundland Baffin Island

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