PortandTerminal.com, February 23, 2020
The Fisheries Minister has badly overstepped his bounds. Colwell is, after all, a public servant, spending public funds at an event that strikes to the heart of the public interest in Nova Scotia – it’s fisheries.
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – The Minister of Fisheries in Nova Scotia, Keith Colwell, has made it clear that the media is not welcome at his fisheries trade show which kicks-off tomorrow in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
That’s upset many of the trade show’s exhibitors who were counting on receiving press coverage to help build public awareness of their products and services in the media. In fact, for many companies, it’s the whole point of investing in a booth, brochures etc and attending the event.
We’re there (at the trade show) to promote the Medway Salmon Recovery Project. In my opinion, the press should be invited to the Fisheries ConferenceRaymond Alexandor, Medway Salmon Recovery Project
It has also raised questions about the Fisheries Minister badly overstepping his bounds. Colwell is, after all, a public servant, spending public funds at an event that strikes to the heart of the public interest in Nova Scotia – it’s fisheries.
Nova Scotia is Canada’s #1 exporter of seafood producing $CAD 917 million ($US 693 million) worth of seafood. That’s big money in a province with a population of less than a million people.
The trade show is happening at a time where Nova Scotia’s largest fishery, its lobster fishery, is in a major crisis.
Nova Scotia makes up the majority of Canada’s lobster industry, bringing more than $US 570 million in 2018. But the COVID19 virus has crushed demand for Nova Scotia’s lobsters in its most important export market, China.
“This is unprecedented. “We are in uncharted waters,” said Bruce Gidney, vice-president of Digby-based Gidney Fisheries Limited speaking about the collapse of demand from China.
Minister Keith Colwell though takes a more relaxed, longer-term view on the current crisis. “Coronavirus (COVID19) won’t affect the lobster industry for long” he was reported as saying. “Fine if you are on a government paycheque,” one lobster fisherman said, among the many who have seen demand for their catch drop by 80% in the past month.
If ever there was a time for public transparency and open discussion about an existential issue facing Nova Scotia’s lobster fisherman, you would think it would be now.
Exhibitors asking questions
Here’s how the Ministry of Fisheries described its trade show to us in a statement.
Our trade show is world-class, featuring companies with products and services for the seafood industry. In fact, this year we’ve expanded by partnering with Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia’s Seafarmer’s Conference. The conference has grown from approximately 50 industry people and no trade show in 2015 to more than 400 registered delegates and 75 trade show exhibitors this year.Dan Davis, Director of Communications, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture
We contacted about half of the exhibitors attending this year’s conference. Here’s a general consensus of what they had to say.
“No, I definitely wasn’t aware that the press was not invited,” said Raymond Alexandor when we contacted him. “We’re there (at the conference) to promote the Medway Salmon Recovery Project. In my opinion, the press should be invited to the Fisheries Conference.”
“I think for publicly funded conferences like this the media needs to be present to ensure transparency,” said another exhibitor who asked not to be named due to their reliance on funding from the Ministry of Fisheries.
“I’m surprised that they (the press) aren’t (invited). The citizens have a right to know” said another exhibitor we contacted.
So why does he want to keep the public in the dark? Why doesn’t the Minister of Fisheries not invite the press to cover his event? In short, it boils down to him saying to the press and the people of Nova Scotia that “I don’t think that I need to and I sure as heck don’t want to invite the press” (our words, not his).
This is what his spokesperson had to say to PortandTerminal.com in their official statement:
You’ve expressed concern about how the conference is promoted. We have a model that works very well for registrants, exhibitors and the fishing and aquaculture sector as a whole.Dan Davis, Director of Communications, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture
Premier Stephen McNeil
Once again, Minister Keith Colwell has put his boss, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil into an uncomfortable position.
So what does Nova Scotia’s Premier Stephen McNeil have to say about the public’s right to know what goes at the publicly-funded fisheries conference? For now, not a word.
We contacted the Premier’s office on February 14, almost ten days ago and asked him two questions:
- Is the Premier aware that the press has not been invited to attend the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister’s Conference in Halifax later this month?
- Does the Premier agree that having the press attend a conference where one of Nova Scotia’s economic cornerstones is being discussed (presumably on the taxpayer’s dime) is in the best interest of Nova Scotians?
We received an automated reply from Premier McNeil’s office thanking us for our communication but no follow-up or response beyond that as of yet.
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