Veteran Newfoundland Journalist Begins to See the Light

Introduction by Captain Paul Watson (in blue)

I've known St. John's Telegram reporter Joe Walsh for years. He was there in the seventies and early eighties covering our campaigns against the horrific Newfoundland seal slaughter.

Now he writes a column for the Telegram and he has been known to rant on about how the "seals are eating all the cod", the usual rhetoric that has been parroted by Newfoundland and Canadian journalists for decades.

This last week, however, Old Joe indicated in his own words that he is "starting to see the light".

Starting to See the Light
By Joe Walsh
St. John's Telegram (July 26, 2003)

It may be just coincidence, but federal Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault appears to have taken more interest in scientific research lately, which is in line with a recent royal commission recommendation.

Earlier this week, Thibault announced a three-year, $545,000-a-year program for research in southern and eastern Newfoundland and Labrador.

That pilot project will bring fisheries scientists and fishermen together to work on high-priority research projects.

The objective, Thibault said, is to determine which research projects should receive priority, with the ultimate goal being a better understanding of the state of fish stocks.

That announcement came on the heels of a similar $500,000-a-year project for the northern Gulf.

If you read between the lines of the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo in the news release, the announcement means more emphasis will be put on finding out why cod stocks have not recovered in certain areas, in particular the Gulf and the northeast coast.

Any kind of new research initiative is welcome news, because the lack of research since the cod stocks collapsed in the late 1980s has been conspicuous by its absence.

One of the recommendations earlier this month of the royal commission on the province's place in Canada called for more research into why cod stocks failed to rejuvenate.

It's unfortunate, but true, that there is less scientific research being carried out by federal fisheries scientists now than prior to 1992 when a moratorium was imposed on the northern cod fishery.

Hopefully, the recent announcements by Thibault are a sign of things to come.

Poaching continues

In another fisheries-related matter, we were reminded again this week of the continuous rape of fisheries resources by poachers.

There's nothing new about this, of course. In fact, it has become a way of life for some.

We've all heard the stories about how a fisheries officer was thrown in a river by a bunch of drunken anglers after the officer had the nerve to accuse them of an illegal fishing practice.

We've heard how these officers have been verbally and physically threatened and/or assaulted when they happened upon some poacher netting Atlantic salmon in a river or taking undersized lobsters.

Besides posing serious danger to the officers, the law-breakers are playing havoc with the resources that many of their neighbours depend on for their livelihoods.

This week, for example, two men appeared in provincial court in Corner Brook to face charges after they were aproached by an officer from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) at 2 a.m. in a cove in the Bay of Islands as they were unloading gear from a boat to a truck.

After inspecting the gear, the officer found a cooler that was full of lobster, most of which were under the legal size.

After the men hurled some abusive language at the officer, one of them struck the him in the chest.

The officer eventually managed to arrest him.

In addition to assault, that man was convicted of resisting arrest and three offences related to having possession of undersized lobsters. He will be sentenced Oct. 9.

His partner was convicted of obstructing the officer and possession of undersized lobsters. He was sentenced to a week in jail and given a $2,500 fine.

About the only thing you can say about these cases is that the penalties should have been higher.

It's too bad judges are restricted as to how much prison time they can give them.

[Joe Walsh is the executive editor and the editorial page editor of The Telegram]

Note from Captain Watson: When it comes to saving seals however, there appears to be no restrictions on the judges. In 1983, I was sentenced to 21 months in prison, given a $75,000 fines and had my ship confiscated for the charge of approaching closer than one half nautical mile to a seal hunt without the permission of the Canadian Minister of Fisheries. This sentence was immediately appealed and overturned. But it does illustrate the hypocrisy of the law in favoring poachers over conservationists.

    - Captain Paul Watson
      Founder and President
      Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
      National Director - Sierra Club