TIGNISH – A local fisherman, who moved to New Brunswick in 1999 hoping to make a better life for himself in the snow crab fishery, is still waiting for that better life to start.
Henry Doucette leafs through one of the boxes of files he has compiled since a New Brunswick crab fisherman in 2002 walked away from a trust agreement they had signed in 1999. He wants the minister of Fisheries and Oceans to re-instate his New Brunswick crab licence.
Eric McCarthy/Journal Pioneer
Henry Doucette entered into a trust agreement with New Brunswick fisherman Vincent Jones in 1999. Doucette would buy Jones’ licences and gear for $1.5 million and would fish under Jones’ licences until such time that he met the proper residency requirements.
The arrangement worked fine for two years, but things started to go off the rails in 2001, when DFO officials advised him that he was in the wrong administrative zone.
Doucette never did get the licence and Jones walked away from the trust agreement in 2002.
Doucette claims he was only $50,000 away from paying off the total amount owing when the deal fell apart, leaving Doucette with a boat and gear he couldn’t use.
Only after lengthy legal proceedings did Doucette settle with the Vincent Jones estate for a portion of the money he had paid.
He’s still out more than a million dollars.
Even though Doucette’s dealings with the Jones estate have ended, Doucette is still very much looking for relief from DFO, the federal department that he claims unfairly forced him out of the New Brunswick crab fishery, and he’s counting on his own member of Parliament, Minister of Fisheries Gail Shea, to provide it.
Doucette alleges that if it were not for misinformation provided to him by DFO personnel in New Brunswick, he would have had the Jones licence transferred to his name before DFO placed a freeze on five trust agreements.
“I thought it was two years, because DFO told us it was two years,” he said of the actual six-month New Brunswick residency requirement. “We just found out years after that it wasn’t two years, when we went to court.”
There is a court transcript from 2004 that quotes Doucette as saying he was told six months residency and two years licensing was required, but he insists he was advised by DFO officials on several occasions that two years residency in New Brunswick was required.
He could have taken possession of the licence in September 1999, but he learned that too late. He also learned too late that there was only one management zone for New Brunswick’s Gulf snow crab fishery.
Residency, he said, should never have been an issue.
“I was living in New Brunswick. I was fishing in New Brunswick. I was there.”
What followed has been a 10-year fight to get what Doucette says he’s due.
“I want to fish. I always wanted to fish.”
More specifically, he wants to fish New Brunswick snow crab quota.
New Brunswick licences have twice as many traps and about four times the quota as P.E.I. licences, and Doucette said he could earn upwards to 50 cents more per pound by selling his catch in New Brunswick.
New Brunswick lawyer Christian Michaud, who has represented Doucette, believes Doucette and others got caught up in a situation where New Brunswick government members feared the loss of crab revenue to P.E.I.
“(DFO’s) main issue was they were facing political pressure by provincial representatives of New Brunswick who were concerned if you had fishermen from P.E.I. buying licences … there is a risk that the landings would not take place any more in New Brunswick …,” Michaud suggested.
If proven, alleged efforts to stop the trust agreements, he said, would amount to an economic tort of interference with contractual relations on economic interests.
During a meeting with Shea the first time she was minister of Fisheries, Doucette said she recommended he appeal his case to the Atlantic Fisheries Licensing Appeal Board (AFLAB).
Doucette said Shea indicated she would abide by the board’s recommendations, but warned he’d have to live with it if he lost.
AFLAB found that Doucette was a victim of erroneous information from DFO and recommended that the licences be reissued.
By the time the recommendation made it to the minister of Fisheries in 2011, Shea was in another department and Keith Ashfield was in charge of the Fisheries department. Ashfield chose not to act on the recommendation.
It was only in the past month that Doucette learned what the recommendation was.
He subsequently took the information to Shea, who is back as Fisheries minister.
Jim Jenkins, a retired DFO chief of resource management for P.E.I., said Ashfield’s inaction on the recommendations does not tie Shea’s hands.
“She has the full authority to reconsider it,” he said.
The Journal Pioneer forwarded a series of questions on this matter to the federal fisheries department, but, claiming Doucette’s case is potentially a matter for litigation, the department declined comment. A request for an interview with Minister Shea on the matter was also declined.