Saturday, November 03, 2007

Trouty closure

Here's something that people are finding hard to accept: there are going to be fewer fish plants in our future. Listen to this interview with the local variation of the devil, Bill Barry, and absorb what he says.

The situation in Trouty is tough, no doubt. It's bad, no way around that. People will be displaced and there will be social upheaval in this rural area.

To be more accurate, there will be more social upheaval in yet another part of the province that is already suffering social upheaval.

A business model based on a cheap dollar is not reliable. There are too many plants in too many communities with too few workers and too little fish. The labour force in the plants is greying to an average age in the late 50s. There is less material to process all the time.

Government is in a bind. They are stuck between maintaining the fiction that no plants will close all the while having to admit that plants will close. They have to make sympathetic noises about how bad the closures are while insisting that they will provide all assistance short of actual help.

Because the only help the community wants is keeping the plant open. And keeping that plant open is not going to happen.

The same old solutions keep getting thrown out - we have to take politics out of the plants, we need to save rural NL etc. But if we take politics out of the industry, then we have to introduce economics. That means that unviable plants have to close.

If you put politics into the industry, and there is already too much of that, then that opens up another set of questions: What does doing what we can to "preserve rural NL" actually mean? Are we to keep the unviable plants open at any cost? Who is going to pay for that? Can we afford for government to operate the fishery as a social program to keep people scattered in little coastal settlements all around the province?

You listen to people involved in the industry and they recognize that plants have to close. Even people in Trouty recognize that plants have to close.

They just don't want their plant to close; it's ok to close plants, as long as it's somebody else's.

The real question is can we transition to a sustainable rural way of life which does not involve pouring money from non-renewable resources (oil) into subsidizing this industry? This is not a problem unique to NL. All over Canada and all over the world the old rural way in that local area is changing or disappearing.

The NL fishery model is based on a high-labour, low-technology model. The foundation is lots of local fisherman using small boats bringing in fish to local plants which uses cheap local labour instead of machinery to process and export the fish. People settled where they did and the communities developed where they did because of the local economic underpinnings.

But now almost every aspect of this social and economic model is under attack, irrelevant or is rapidly become nonexistent.

Will there be a fishery in the future? There will always be a fishery of some kind but it won't look like our traditional fishery. In the same way potatos in the stores no longer comes from the small family farm, fish will no longer come from the independent fisherman supplying the 10 week community plant.

Government needs to get ahead of this in a honest way instead of fighting their rearguard, and ultimately hypocritical, action. The Opposition does too.

Beating their breasts that they will do what they can to "Save rural NL" or "preserve the rural way of life" or "renew rural NL" means they are preying on people's natural resistance to change.

They need to level with the people being affected and they have to stop exploiting those people for political ends.

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