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President's Column - Summer 2018

In the fifty-nine year history of your Union, we’ve experienced the rewarding challenge of building a union through nothing but hard work and commitment, the gut wrenching difficulty of the moratorium and out-migration, the rebuilding of our fishery through shellfish, the building and then closure of plants, countless tie-ups, and battles with the provincial and federal governments. All the while we have branched out to different sectors, organizing hotel workers, steel workers, technicians, brewery workers, and tugboat operators. This is to say nothing about the deaths of co-workers, crewmembers, skippers, and loved-ones that leave heartache and memories that never disappear.

Your Union has lived a lot in fifty-nine years, and in many respects it has lived many different eras, each with their own circumstance, setting, challenges, goals and successes.

It is likely that we are about the embark on another era for you and your Union. This life will bring about new challenges, a new economics, and new opportunities, that will be different from the past. This new era will not be divorced from the past – there are many positive changes of the last 20 years that must continue – but the constantsof the past two decades will likely be no more.

As I embark on another three year term as President of your Union, it is important to set some markers as to where we want to be three years from now. We have discussed the challenges and the solutions, now it is time to sketch what that future should be.

In three years time controlling agreements should be formally illegal. There will be real and significant consequences for processing companies seeking to control quota by wrecking the financial basis of the fishery and compelling harvesters to participate in illegal schemes that rob the harvester of all control and rights. The punishment for entering into a controlling agreement will be defined and not subject to the uncertainties of judicial discretion.

In three years time the difficulties posed by controlling agreements will not be resolved. Some of these agreements have been in place for decades and are hid behind the barriers of lawyer offices and deep pocketed corporation. Most importantly, untangling the web of controlling agreements should minimally impact harvesters. The elimination of controlling agreements will not mean the end of harvesting jobs and the overall loss of licenses. The goal of membersin getting rid of controlling agreements is to strengthen harvester autonomy.

In three years time we will have a substantial ground fisheries including increased opportunities in cod  that harvesters will rely upon for an ever-growing proportion of their annual catch and earnings. This goal may seem bold in light of the challenges faced this year, but I do not believe that a one-year decline reversing the trend of healthy growth in the stock that has been ongoing for the past decade. There will be a strong cod fishery in three years time, that will operate over  much longer season and that will land a quality product that is as good or better than that which is landed in Iceland and Norway.

In three years time wewill have initiated a valuable redfish fishery in the Gulf with potential to supportdozens of enterprises and over a hundred harvesters. This fishery will be sustainable, free of corporate control, and provide harvesters in this province with a fair share of the resource.

In three years time there will be new fish processing plants either newly built or in the process of being built at a variety of locations in rural NL. These new plants will provide important and safe work for rural communities. These plants, along with the inshore owner-operator fleet, will ensure that those who live closest to the resource will receive the maximum benefit from the harvesting of that resource.

In three years time we will have a stronger understanding of what a sustainable crab and shrimp fishery will look like in a groundfish dominant marine environment. These two fisheries saved rural NL in the years after the moratorium and we do not foresee them disappearing with the return of cod. While the fisheries for both has clearly declined in recent years, an inshore crab and shrimp fishery will continue to exist and be profitable for years to come. What will change is the scale of the fishery, and right now it is difficult to determine what they will be.

In three years time we will have a more formal understanding from DFO on the tremendous impact of predators on the fishery and plans will be developed on a sustainable solution. On a social, economic, and political grounds, Canada cannot continue to willfully look away while seal populations explode and do ever more harmful damage to our fisheries and the marine environment. It is alarming to see pictures from harvesters of seal bellies showing huge amounts of capelin, cod, and crab inside. The evidence of the impact of seals is clear; if only the federal government took the time to look The images presented by anti-sealing protesters cannot triumph over the challenges faced by coastal areas when harvesters return with next to nothing in their nets and pots.

In three years time the lobster fishery will be maintaining year-over-year growth in landings and the lobster fishery will continue to grow in terms of landed value, in the province. NL lobster will be better recognized as the best lobster in the world and your Union’s traceability program will serve as an identification card for buyers and consumers.

In three years time the NL brewing protections in Canada’s Agreement on Internal Trade will remain in place, protecting the scores of good paying brewery jobs already in this province while denying large corporations to establish more profits on the backs of the worker.

In three years time our steel fabrication workers will be enjoying more employment and better respect in terms of securing projects. Adjacency not only applies in the fishery; it applies for all our natural resources and major projects. Our steel fabrication workers have been let down by the promises of the Atlantic Accord, and this must change.  

In three years time the NL tourism sector will be as strong as ever, and this will benefit our hospitality workers, upon whom tourists depend for a good experience and a smile. Our workers in hospitality sector must enjoy a financial share of the industry that helped build and constantly support.

In general, in three years time I want to see your Union grow. We have interrelated economic and demographic challenges, but they are not insurmountable. There are young people who still crave a regular, good paying job that provides dignity and purpose. There are always new opportunities to build wealth, security, and workers rights. Our future is not yet written; we still hold the pen.

Lastly, in three years we will have bridged some of the gaps that have emerged over the past few years. As I’ve said in the past, we are a Union that has grown from debate and different ideas. We want to encourage discussion, and not descend to derision. We want passionate responses mixed with empathy for our fellow Union members; and not insults and rigid divisions. We are stronger together; that’s not a belief, that’s a fact.

This is part of my vision, based on the practicalities of the present and the opportunities of the future. This vision will require a lot of work, but there is no better use of our time and effort.