So far, Yvonne Jones has broken two records in her political career. First, she was the first member elected to represent her area as an Independent in 27 years. Now elected as a member of the Liberal party, Jones has been named the first woman to serve as fisheries minister for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Jones, sworn in on Feb. 17 as minister of fisheries, and also as minister for the status of women, says she has two goals to accomplish during her tenure in the post: increased development of aquaculture in the province and the “fine-tuning” of the processing and licensing sectors.

Her district of Cartwright-L’anse Au Clair in Labrador has four crab processing facilities, one shrimp plant, two groundfish plants and more than 600 fishermen. “With only a population of 6,000 people, fishing is clearly a prominent industry,” said Jones.

“A province with 500 years’ history in fishing needs to look at what it will do in the next 500 years” after facing a moratorium on the province’s fabled cod fishery and a shutdown of its commercial salmon industry, said Jones. “The future is aquaculture. The government needs to look at strategically investing money in aquaculture.”

When the cod moratorium was imposed more than 10 years ago, the federal government spent more than $5 billion to offset its effects. If such an amount had been invested in aquaculture back then, the province “could be outputting more farmed cod than is harvested now,” said Jones, pointing out that Norway has invested heavily in cod farming and is now poised to harvest 60,000 tons of farmed cod in 2007. Adjustments must be made to the licensing and processing sectors, said Jones, since as many as 70 processing facilities, not operating currently, have the potential to be reactivated, straining limited resources.

Despite the tremendous loss of the cod fishery, Jones said the province managed to top $1 billion in seafood exports last year – “the highest in our history” – in part due to stable shrimp and cod prices and an increased value in the seal industry, including seal oil capsules and vitamins. She is proud that a quality control program has brought Newfoundland and Labrador’s seafood from being considered “not very good” to “some of the best in the world” over a six-year period. “Our quality control measures apply from the harvesters to the infrastructure – on the boat, the wharf, the plant and the truck. At first, there was not a great deal of enthusiasm,” she said. “It was expensive for everyone, but now it’s paid off in a big way.”