This article is horrific

‘This article is horrific’ r1 ... BECOME A MEMBER The Narwhal's masthead logo A man in fishing gear faces the ocean as he walks on the rocks. Way back in early March 2020, in my second week at The Narwhal, I headed to our organization’s HQ in Victoria to meet the team.

One afternoon, a freelance journalist named Jimmy Thomson stopped by to chat about a story: people who had worked on trawl ships as fisheries observers were getting ready to speak out about the abuse and harassment they faced out on B.C. coastal waters.

A culture of intimidation, they told Jimmy, left observers too scared to report the real figures of just how much of the catch being picked up by these deep-sea trawlers was being dumped back out into the sea. How much wasted fish? As much as 140 million pounds — or $1 billion-worth of catch that had not been accounted for over two decades.

Two months after that meeting with Jimmy, we published the massive investigation. The revelations contributed to some swift change: one skipper, accused of harassment by several whistleblowers, promptly resigned as a director of the industry group that oversees B.C.’s trawl fishing operations.

As for getting a fulsome response from the federal department that mandates the presence of observers aboard these trawlers? Let’s just say Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) wasn’t jumping in to publicly address the seriousness of the allegations, which came to include sexual harassment allegations Jimmy wrote about for VICE World News.

More than two years into our reporting, DFO still doesn’t want to talk. But thanks to Jimmy’s persistence, The Narwhal and VICE have gotten ahold of more than 700 pages of internal documents through access to information requests — and buoy oh buoy do they reveal a whole lot.

Take this email a DFO manager sent to three colleagues the morning the VICE story was published in 2021:
“This article is horrific. I know we’ve discussed the limitations about what DFO can do with respect to harassment of [observers], but we must have a discussion about what is within our means to ensure [they] are protected.” – Adam Keizer, Regional manager, DFO
Those earlier discussions he references? They began following The Narwhal’s initial investigation in 2020.

And as those DFO discussions continued, the documents show the department did actually go about working on changes to protect observers — albeit out of public view: the department created new sections for its nation-wide observer policy addressing harassment while investing millions in modernizing the program.

“It’s heartening to see that sometimes government officials really take these criticisms and whistleblower complaints to heart, and set about trying to fix it,” Jimmy told me.
Jimmy Thomson poses for a photo in front of trees
“I wish getting that reaction was just a matter of picking up the phone and calling them — but with a few exceptions, most DFO people I’ve spoken with for this reporting have been unwilling to talk to me frankly or openly about what’s happening inside the organization.”

“Canadians should have the right to know what decisions are being made, or not made, by their governments and why. In a case like this, there are actual people’s lives on the line, so to obfuscate and put up walls is beyond unacceptable.”

When those walls are put up, The Narwhal is there to knock them down — and prompt change that can make a real difference.

If you believe in the power of investigative journalism to create change, become a member of The Narwhal today for any amount you can afford. Together, our members enable us to do this kind of accountability reporting that you won’t read anywhere else.

Take care and affect change,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

P.S. We are nearly 60 per cent of the way toward achieving our mission to add 500 members in May. Will you be one of the 230 people to help bring three new Narwhal investigations to life in 2022?
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