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President's Column Summer 2016

Message from the President

This is a difficult time in our province. We are facing economic challenges on a variety of levels and for many people, times are tough and there’s no respite in sight. FFAW members are affected like everyone else. People are being laid off, jobs are threatened, and in some regions landings in this year’s fisheries has been a catastrophe.

I feel the struggles of our members and the responsibility our Union has to help make things better. Our Union is most important when times are challenging. When our members struggle, we struggle too. The Union has the collective capacity to work to improve the lives of working people. That is our goal and reason for existing.

It goes without saying that the 2016 provincial budget is an economic and social travesty. It applies regressive revenue raising techniques that hits the working class people the hardest. The levy has been the focus of the outrage, but other changes, such as a drastic increase in the gas tax and the adding of a tax to insurance are going to hit our members very hard. We have lobbied against these regressive taxation changes and have participated in protests that have been organized over the protests organized in response.

Economic fairness cannot be thrown out the window during hard times. We will continue to fight to ensure that fairness is reasserted into the province’s economic policies.

Though it has not received a high degree of media attention, there is an unfolding economic disaster going on in Placentia Bay. Hundreds of harvesters have seen the stocks of multiple fish species crash at the same time. The once-healthy crab, cod, and whelk fisheries are all a fraction of what they once were. Last week we heard from harvesters that pulled up 16 nets only to find one cod amongst them all. This is an unprecedented environmental collapse that no science has yet properly explained.

The difficulties in Placentia Bay are going to require some much-needed short term solutions, as well as a longer term approach. In the short term, the challenges in Placentia Bay highlight the overall lack of access to halibut in 3Ps. Historically, the inshore share in 3Ps was 6%; under the Harper government it was reduced to 3%. This is a significant decline for a very valuable species in an economically challenged area.

The province could also provide support on halibut but has thus far failed to do so. The provincial government has a halibut quota in 3Ps that it leases to another company which in turn leases it to Nova Scotia harvesters. This is a provincially-owned quota fished by Nova Scotia. That quota should be fished by NL harvesters; given the circumstances in Placentia Bay, that quota must be fished by NL harvesters in the 3Ps region.

We are also engaged with the federal government about various longer term solutions. We have worked with other economically challenged regions in the past and we understand what solutions could work best given the different circumstances. Our ultimate goal is to improve fishing-related incomes in Placentia Bay and we are preparing a proposal for the federal government to further that objective.

For a year and a half, FFAW-Unifor has been engaged in a sustained campaign in favour of adjacency in the fishery. To put it in a broader context, adjacency is not only critical for fish harvesters, it is important for all aspects of resource development. We have new locals in Long Harbour at the smelter plant. Those locals are only possible because of adjacency – the nickel in the province is processed in the province.

This year we have seen adjacency threatened or ignored in the oil and gas and construction industry to the detriment of our members. The Atlantic Accord is a document based on adjacency – the people of NL are to benefit from the extraction of the resources off our coast. But time and again contracts for oil and gas work have gone outside of the province – a direct dismissal of adjacency. And it is FFAW-Unifor members who are affected by these decisions; who are deprived of work on a project that is supposed to adhere to adjacency.

Adjacency is not a law of nature or a law of Canada. The entire inshore fishery – all 18,000 direct jobs and tens of thousands of indirect jobs – is entirely dependent on adjacency. The gradual erosion of adjacency in the fishery, like the gradual erosion of adjacency in mining and oil and gas, undermines the entire fishery and the economic well-being of the province.

Over the past month, we have been a key participant in the Ministerial Advisory Panel (MAP) on the review of the last in, first out (LIFO) policy that DFO applies to the management of northern shrimp allocations. LIFO is an abandonment of adjacency because it protects a hierarchy of access that does not consider if one group lives alongside a resource. Adjacency is not limited in time; it does not exist for a fixed number of years and then ends. This is true for the fishery and for oil and gas and mining. Adjacency exists in perpetuity.

During the LIFO review, we heard dozens of statements from inshore shrimp harvesters, plant workers, businesses and community leaders about the importance of adjacency. To many, adjacency is not an opportunity, it is everyday life. Harvesters and plant workers live alongside the ocean, which serves as their workshop and economic lifeline.

The arguments put forward against this position were much less convincing. Access by non-adjacent offshore license holders was argued on the basis that it was needed to fulfill a business model and that they had access in the past and should continue to have access in the future. To accept this argument, we also have to agree that the access in the past was properly given.

In the end, this is not a dispute about provincial shares. It is a dispute about fair economic opportunity. Let us build our economy around the resource we have, fishery or otherwise. This does not mean that others are not welcome, but it does mean that the economic interest of NL comes first when developing the resource in or adjacent to our province. With northern shrimp, we have the local inshore capacity to exclusively harvest SFA 6. We need to be allowed to do so, as that is in the best economic interest of NL.

It is because adjacency is so important to our province that this current LIFO review is crucial. If adjacency is reaffirmed in shrimp, it would help reaffirm adjacency in other fisheries and other industries. We have made a comprehensive case for adjacency, if it is accepted we hope that it will trigger the start of a paradigm shift back towards greater consideration of local economic needs across all industries.

While we are facing some significant challenges, we are not without some good news. The minimum crab price this year reached a record high of $3.00 per pound (subject to changes in currency). There are real concerns about the future viability of the crab fishery and this year has seen some challenges, but for many in the fishery, it will be a good season. Harvesters have received record prices at the wharf and plant workers are busy at work.

Lobster is emerging as one of the strongest fisheries in the province. Last year’s prices were very good, though they were subject to some large fluctuations. This year’s prices never reached the highs of last year, but they have been consistently much higher throughout the season as last year. The price for last week was $6.40 per pound; this time last year it was $4.45. That is a 44% increase.

Lastly, we negotiated a new cod agreement last month. Prices are up slightly and are almost back to the 2014 level. More importantly, we’ve forged an agreement with processers that will help improve quality and enhance processer accountability. There are now specific protocols for processer shipping and handling of cod and meaningful penalties that can be applied if these protocols are not followed. This is an important step to enshrining quality as the key pillar of the new cod fishery.

To all of our members, both on the water, in plants and in the industrial and retail sectors—have a safe and enjoyable summer.