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President's Column - Summer 2015

Message from the President

 

Since the beginning of 2014, there has been a renewed focus on the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador with unprecedented support from all provincial political parties in support of strong fisheries management principles that are built around adjacency and historical dependence.

With adjacency and historical dependence as pillars of fisheries management, the focus is on allowing those who traditionally harvested and relied upon the fishery to be the primary beneficiaries of the resource in the adjacent ocean.

The FFAW has pursued a strong campaign in support of adjacency-guided fisheries management principles. Thankfully, though not surprisingly, this campaign has served as a magnet, drawing together support from diverse groups of people and interests from all across our province. Recent rallies in Corner Brook and Gander were attended by the Premier, the leaders of all provincial political parties, federal MPs from the NDP and Liberal parties, fish processing companies, business owners, mayors, harvesters and processing workers. 

It is unsurprising that a campaign to improve fisheries management would have such pull because, after all, the fisheries is the original and most important megaproject in the province.

There are nearly 20,000 direct fisheries jobs in our province. In many areas of the province, the fisheries supplies the economic backbone for the local transportation, restaurant, retail, and hospitality sectors. Local governments, too, depend on the fisheries to generate the tax revenue needed to provide local services.

While oil prices have slumped, the fisheries has remained strong, fueling renewed economic resiliency in rural, costal NL. The fisheries are worth $1 billion per year, and supports tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs. Still, the fisheries have yet to reach their full potential and are being kept from reaching its full potential because of Federal fishing management policies that clearly undermine the strength and value of this province’s fisheries.  

Take for example the recent decision of Gail Shea, the Minister for Fisheries and Oceans, to deviate from the Gulf of St. Lawrence stable sharing arrangement on halibut established by her own government.  The Minister put politics first and increased the halibut share for her constituents in PEI by 90%. The Minister’s resource cronyism came directly at the expense of NL halibut harvesters, whose quota increase was a mere 9%, as opposed to the established 32.4%.

Minister Shea did the same thing with Halibut in 3Ps, where traditional harvesters adjacent to the resource have less than 3 percent of the catch.  Instead, she allocated the halibut to the corporate class, requiring 3Ps halibut-dependent harvesters to buy shares of the quota they did not receive from Shea’s preferred corporate clients; it creates the perfect halibut monopoly in 3Ps.

Minister Shea has also run roughshod over the concepts of adjacency and fairness in the allocation of the northern shrimp resource. In 2013, she imperiled the livelihood of 3000 harvesters and plant workers directly engaged in shrimp fishery by approving a 26% cut to the inshore shrimp quota. This was done to protect her preferred corporate offshore friends, which only experienced a 5% cut. This was an intolerable deviation of sound fisheries management and the principle of adjacency. The FFAW is committed to seeing this decision reversed. 

The pull of the FFAW’s campaign for adjacency and improved fisheries management is also supported by basic common sense. Why deprive those closest to a resource from being the primary beneficiaries of that resource? Why undermine an inshore fishery sector, which provides more widespread benefits and a larger GDP, in favour of an offshore sector that is less valuable, supports fewer jobs, and supports a larger concentration of wealth? We’ve brought these arguments to both NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin. Our message is starting to pay off. 

In the first week of June, the FFAW received the following commitment from federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair stating:

 

"An NDP Government would eliminate the LIFO policy and re-establish fair sharing in the shrimp fishery so that everybody shares fairly in ups and downs in the resource.

In all species, we would respect the resource access pillars of adjacency and historic dependency. Under an NDP government, fish would not be shopped around for political purposes."

 

This commitment is an essential first step and confirmation that the efforts of the FFAW are paying off. Rest assured, we will not be relaxing. The FFAW will be seeking a similar commitment for the Liberal Party of Canada and continue to engage the federal Conservatives. And before the dust settles after the federal election, we will be holding the new government to its commitments and we will be doing what is best for the fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador. After all, the FFAW has seen many commitments come and go over 40-plus years and the older the crab, the tougher the claws.

As we head into elections on both the provincial and federal levels, the FFAW will be ensuring that all parties are putting needs of workers in all of industries first.  Whether we work in a processing plant, manufacturing facility, a fishing boat, a hotel, on a tanker or any workplace; health and safety must be a priority.  If we can‘t come home safe and in good health at the end of the day, other issues are irrelevant.

There is an article in this issue of the Forum dedicated to updating members on the process of developing a safety sector council for fish processing workers, though there are a few things I would like to add.

Myself and two of the staff met with the leadership of the WHSCC in mid-May. It was a positive meeting and I could tell that the Chair and CEO were keenly interested in moving this matter forward. During the meeting, the Chair noted that fish processing is the only sector in the province where the workplace injury numbers have gotten worse in the last ten years. That is unacceptable.

While we were already pursuing the creation of the council with some urgency, comments like the one above serve to reinforce the importance of our goal.

The establishing of a sector safety council does take time as there is a process. I do think that plant workers have an important role to play in the process. We need you to keep the conversation about plant safety alive and active. We need you to impress upon your supervisors and managers that a safety organization devoted to plant safety is a good thing – it will keep people safe and, in the long run, it will save plant owners money.

Thank you for your ongoing support and the confidence you have shown in my leadership since November. I look forward to serving as the President of your union for the next three years. To all members of the FFAW, please have a safe summer.