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President's Column Spring 2017

Message From the President

A great 20th Century thinker once wrote that, “Survival in fact is about the connections between things.” He then went on to say that reality must recognize the other “echoes that inhabit the garden.” This is a nice way of presenting a very common sense statement that survival is based on viewing the bigger picture and its interactions; that tunnel vision will be our demise.

The very difficult news that we’ve heard over the past few weeks on shrimp and crab require us to understand that moving forward we all have to recog­nize the connections that tie our marine ecosystem together. Shrimp and crab are in decline. We can have an honest debate over the scope of this decline but the bottom line is that there is less shrimp and crab available to harvest this year than in year’s past.

At the same time groundfish stocks, most notably cod, are rapidly growing. This, too, is a fact that we repeat to our members, to industry, and to DFO and DFLR on a daily basis.

But the fact that groundfish is returning cannot be separated from the fact of crab and shrimp’s decline. They are clearly related, as has been docu­mented in other places where shellfish has given way to groundfish.

Unfortunately, our fisheries are not managed in such a way as to draw upon these connections and allow harvesters and plant workers to survive and thrive. We manage shrimp and crab strictly in rela­tion to shrimp and crab as they existed in the past 20 years and not in relation to how cod interacted with these species prior to the moratorium. The same holds true for cod and how it is managed.

Our fisheries are not managed to find a balance between the species that inhabit the water; they are managed on the basis of optimum conditions for each individual species, which is a set of individual circumstances that never exist together in the marine environment. Our fisheries are managed on the basis of a lack of connection between them.

There are tens of thousands of people in this province that depend directly or indirectly upon the fishery. These people deserve better than the current approach to fishery management; they deserve a comprehensive management approach that reflects the environment they depend upon for their livelihood.

We also need a greater appreciation for the circumstances of those who depend upon the fishery by those who manage the fishery. A crab or shrimp quota is not just a number; it is a livelihood for thou­sands, it is hopes and expectations and economic development and new skates for children and new siding on the house and a million other aspirations and plans. Every decline in quota diminishes these aspirations and plans.

It does not have to be this way. If we viewed the fishery as the large interconnected undertaking that it is, it would be wise to offset the difficult news with the hope of a bigger cod fishery, for example, to take the bite out of a decline in crab. Of course to get to this point we would have to eliminate the growing corporate interest in independent fisheries science, which will be difficult.

Nonetheless, there needs to be a better approach than the current one that leaves harvesters and plant workers in a state of panic and frustration for weeks on end as news on the various fisheries trickles out over time. That’s an unfair approach.

Last week the federal government announced the Atlantic Fisheries Fund, which essentially replaces the fund that was promised to the NL fishing industry as part of the CETA negotiations. This new fund is for all of Atlantic Canada and NL has been allotted $100 million of the $325 million fund. This amount falls far short of the $400 million that the NL fishing industry was promised by both the provincial and federal governments. The province has given no indi­cation that it will be contributing any amount to the NL portion of the Atlantic Fisheries Fund.

We welcome all investment in our fishery, as it has not received substantial governmental investment in some time. But the Atlantic Fisheries Fund falls short of what we expected and what was committed to us by both the federal and provincial governments.

We have been told by the federal and provin­cial governments that this is a start, so we assume that future funding announcements will be made. We intend to hold both orders of government to their word.

The goal of the original fund was to modernize our fishery and help with the current transition with a focus of improving incomes for people working in the fishery. There is no set cost to do this. Our expec­tation is that the Atlantic Fisheries Fund will allow us to meet this goal and that further funding will be provided in the future if required.

On March 9th I met with the Premier and Minister Crocker to discuss a variety of matters. I want to briefly touch upon two points.

On the Agreement on Internal Trade, the Premier confirmed that his government has no intention of changing the current exemptions around brewing. He noted that this is not an issue that his government is considering and that we need not worry about it. We ensure that our governments understand the value of good jobs, like those of our members in brewing at Molson Coors Canada.

We also raised the importance of maximizing employment on bigger projects, like oil and gas and building construction at MUN. The Premier fully agreed on the need to do this, and he explained that his government will be doing all it can to create and maintain work of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the passing of a larger than life figure in Canadian labour. On February 17, Bob White passed away leaving behind a tremendous legacy that helped shape today’s labour movement.

It was under Bob White’s steadfast leadership of the Canadian Auto Workers Union that FFAW joined the national union in 1987. Bob served three terms as president of CAW before leaving to serve as president of the Canadian Labour Congress from 1992 to 1999.

Bob had a deep connection to working people in Newfoundland and Labrador and stood shoulder to shoulder with FFAW members through various mobilizations throughout the years. His contribu­tions to FFAW and to broader Canadian society will not soon be forgotten.