04/24/2013 04:49 EDT | Updated 06/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Ottawa distances itself from N.S. senator on fishery

Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield has reaffirmed so-called fleet separation, distancing the federal government from a letter written by a Nova Scotia Conservative Senator that questioned the Atlantic fisheries policy.

This week it was revealed Nova Scotia Conservative Senator Stephen Greene had lobbied Ashfield for an end to fleet separation, offering to help "drive a stake through the heart" of "one of the worst industrial policies in Canadian history."

Greene argued the policy stops vertical integration in the fishery, stifles economic growth and encouraging a culture of dependence.

"It has crippled economic development in Atlantic Canada, cost Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and forced the Atlantic fishery to be more seasonal than it otherwise would be," Greene wrote to Ashfield in a March 2012 letter obtained by the federal Liberal Party though the Access to Information Act.

Asked about the Greene letter in the House of Commons, Ashfield repeated a pronouncement last fall that the government would maintain the policy. That statement ended months of speculation on the future of the fishery.

Early in 2012, the Conservatives issued a white paper on the future of Canada's commercial fishery that omitted fleet separation, which ensures companies that catch seafood cannot also process it. The future of another policy called owner-operator, which requires fishermen to own the boats that catch fish, was also up in the air.

Both are seen as instrumental to maintaining small boat fisheries and the coastal communities that depend on them.

"On September 21, 2012, I categorically stated that we will not eliminate the Owner-Operator Fleet Separation policy. I don't know why the opposition continues to try to instil unfounded uncertainty and fear in an industry that is facing much more challenging issues," Ashfield said Tuesday.

Greene did not respond to CBC inquiries about his letter.