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  • Writer's picturerryancleary

DFO drops investigations into alleged controlling agreements; inshore fisheries advocate calls for independent inquiry to find out why

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Monday, July 8th 2024 The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has shut down three separate investigations in this province into alleged illegal controlling agreements that give processing companies control over inshore boats and quotas — including one case that included a harvester’s confession — with no charges laid.

La Scie fisherman Jimmy Lee Foss confessed to DFO in January to allegedly being in an illegal controlling agreement with Quinlan Brothers Ltd. DFO read him his rights, and launched an investigation, but informed him last week the investigation has concluded, with no charges pending. Two other separate DFO investigations have also been shut down.

DFO officials have yet to say why the cases were closed last week, and whether controlling agreements remain illegal as a means to prevent the corporate takeover of inshore fisheries in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. 

However, the decision appears to be the result of a move by DFO’s licensing division to release the commercial fishing licenses at the centre of each of the three investigations when they were ongoing — contravening the department’s own Atlantic Fisheries regulations. 

“Why would DFO knowingly break its own rules?” questions Ryan Cleary, an inshore fisheries advocate and former MP.  “What precious little integrity DFO has left is on the line, so the department should actually encourage an independent probe into its actions.”

Controlling agreements typically involve a processing company loaning money to a harvester to purchase an enterprise, commercial licences, or gear, and, through the agreement, illegally controlling the catch.

The federal court ruled in 2017 that controlling agreements are illegal. 

To date, DFO has yet to lay a single charge related to controlling agreements, although there were three separate investigations until last week when DFO made the decision to shut them down. 

One well-known case involved La Scie fisherman Jimmylee Foss, who confessed in January to being in an alleged controlling agreement with Quinlan Brothers Ltd. since the 2021 purchase of a $3.8-million enterprise and suite of fishing licenses. DFO read Foss his rights, and at least one search warrant was executed. 

In a July 4th letter to Foss, Paul Didham with DFO’s Conservation and Protection division confirmed the department has decided “not to proceed in this matter.”

“Therefore please be advised that this investigation is now concluded, and no charges pursued.” 

DFO has yet to respond to questions stemming from its decision — including whether controlling agreements remain illegal. 

Atlantic Fisheries regulations cleary state that commercial fishing licences are not to be reissued if in a controlling agreement.

There are just over 3,000 licensed inshore fishing enterprises in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it’s believed a majority are tied to processors through financial agreements that include the right-of-first refusal on all landings.

“DFO’s integrity took a hit last week when the department broke its word not to allow offshore draggers at the northern cod stock, so this latest news on controlling agreements could undermine what’s left of it unless the department comes clean,” Cleary said.


Ryan cleary is a former journalist, Member of Parliament, union leader, and long-time inshore fisheries advocate who’s currently helping to organize a co-operative ( for inshore enterprise owners. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own. Contact him at or call/text 709 682 4862.

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