Wednesday, March 1, 2017

'Life's blood of Newfoundland'


Former federal Fisheries minister James McGrath
says inshore fishery only thing that can save outports

The following story was published in the Oct. 31st, 2004 edition of the now-defunct Independent newspaper, as part of a six-part cost-benefit analysis of Confederation (Part 3, fisheries).

Oct. 31st, 2004
By Stephanie Porter
The Independent

When James McGrath first became Fisheries minister for Canada in 1979, one of his middle managers — who happened to be a Newfoundlander — paid him a visit, with one piece of advice to offer.

“He said, ‘When you receive recommendations for total allowable catches, you should shave them by 25 per cent,’” McGrath says. “That’s how inexact the science is.”

One of the first decisions McGrath had to make as minister was whether to reopen the Gulf fishery to trawlers. Although it was unpopular at the time, he took the 25-per-cent-less advice he was given. Later, he maintains, it was recognized he did the right thing. 

“Who’s right?” he asks. “Is it the fishermen or the scientists? Somewhere in between, I figure, you have the truth.”

McGrath paints an uncomfortable picture of fisheries management: “inexact” or incomplete science people don’t trust; fishermen and women who aren’t always listened too; political pressure from many levels; and, at the head of it all, “the draconian power of the minister.”

“Within the Fisheries Act, one of (Canada’s) oldest acts … lies absolute power with one person,” McGrath says. “So that when we became a province of Canada, total say over our fisheries were vested in the hands of the Government of Canada. As a result of that, our fisheries were destroyed.”

“Our fishery was literally squandered. We had no say in the management of it and we don’t to this day.”

McGrath says Newfoundland and Labrador’s greatest, original renewable resource became the victim of competing interests — treated not as a Newfoundland and Labrador fishery — but as a common-property resource open to all Canadians.

McGrath first ran for politics in 1956 and lost. But he tried again, this time successfully, one year later, and won the St. John’s East seat for the Progressive Conservatives in 1957. He held the seat until 1963, then regained it in 1968 — keeping it, this time, until the mid-1980s. 

Through those years of politics, through his five-year stint as lieutenant governor of the province, and in the years since, McGrath has stayed informed, opinionated and, from time to time, incensed.

As a Yo Yo Ma Cd plays in the background, McGrath relaxes at the dining room table in his St. John’s apartment. The pink, white and green Newfoundland flag sit as a centrepiece. 

Although McGrath favoured responsible government over Confederation back in 1949, he’s not certain Newfoundland and Labrador should not be part of Canada.

“But, if we’d had our own parliament restored to us, as was promised, it would have negotiated with Canada, not a panel appointed by an English governor. We may have ended up in Canada … but if we had ended up part of Canada, we would have done so under better terms.”

That could have been the key to still having a cod fishery. But hindsight, as they say, is perfect.

“Fish was not the lucrative commodity then that it is now, but it was important enough I think we could have said to Canada, look, we want to negotiate. We don’t want to hand our fisheries over willy-nilly without certain conditions attached.

“That we want to be consulted on the awarding of quotas and using our precious fishery resources as bartering tools for the fisheries trade.”

But nobody questioned at the time what would happen to Newfoundland’s fisheries, once brought under the Canadian flag. And so decisions related to offshore fisheries were made in Ottawa, thousands of kilometres away from the people — and fish — they impacted.

McGrath says the next big chance for Canada to manage the fish properly was in the late-1970s, when the country implemented the 200-mile limit.

What should have been an opportunity for careful thought, McGrath says, Canada looked at it as a “bonanza, as a gold strike.” 

More fish plants were built, an aggressive Canadian offshore fleet was developed (in part, to feed the plants), and the foreign freezer trawlers were out in force. 

Cod were fished 12 months a year.

“You don’t have to be a marine biologist to know if you don’t give the animal time to reproduce it’s going to disappear.” And disappear it did. Even now, McGrath says, he doesn’t think DFO should “every contemplate sustaining an offshore trawler fishery.”

But he does think there’s room — even a necessity — for an inshore, hook-and-line fishery.

In 1979, when McGrath was Fisheries minister, he was quoted as saying this about rural Newfoundland: “for these people, for the people working in processing plants, for their families and the communities in which they live, the right and the ability to reap the (inshore) harvest is indispensable, because they have a  special, a very special relationship to these stocks.”

It’s a belief he holds today — strongly.

“I think there’s enough fish in our bays to sustain a hook-and-line fishery … however, the mindset in Ottawa is that the inshore is a “social fishery,” people fishing for stamps. 

“Not the life’s blood of Newfoundland, which it is, and has been for hundreds of years. They would like to see this social fishery, the inshore, disappear. And this is where we should be digging in our heels. Because the inshore fishery is the only thing that can save rural Newfoundland.”

Without federal-provincial joint management, McGrath says theres’s little hope for the fishery of the future. Admittedly pessimistic, he wonders aloud whether the current media excitement surrounding Danny Williams and the Atlantic Accord could, in the end, give Newfoundland and Labrador a leg up on other negotiations.

“We don’t have much clout in the federation and that’s a real problem,” he says. “We have to get their attention.”

“I think out of this oil thing, perhaps we have their attention. Openline shows are now talking about separation and its doesn’t surprise me.

“Maybe the offshore oil situation has shown us the way .. we have an offshore management board which has federal appointees, provincial appointees, and industrial appointees.

“The same could work for our fishery. But it would mean opening up and amending the draconian Fisheries Act.”

Monday, January 9, 2017

Harvester uprising not a raid of the FFAW, but a full fledged revolt


I delivered the following remarks on Friday, Dec. 30th, 2016 during a news conference after FISH-NL filed an application for certification with the Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Board.

Good morning, thank you for coming. 

Earlier this morning an application was presented to the Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Board requesting that FISH-NL be certified as the new bargaining agent for inshore fish harvesters.

The application includes membership cards signed by inshore harvesters from more than 300 communities around the province.

We feel we have the support of more than 50 per cent of all inshore harvesters that we know of — we certainly had the support of more than 80 per cent of all harvesters we encountered. 

But there are few certainties in this process. 

FISH-NL does not know the exact number of inshore fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador, because we were not permitted access to a definitive list.

Such a list would have made our job a lot easier, that IS a certain.  

In the absence of a definitive list, FISH-NL’s executive does not feel comfortable in revealing publicly exactly how many membership cards we have submitted to the Labour Relations Board.

We don’t want to give the FFAW the opportunity to pad the list any more than they probably already have. 

FISH-NL has come a long way since we formalized in late October. 

Over the past 60 days since we started this membership drive, we held 49 formal meetings on every coast, and our crew of more than 200 volunteers spoke with thousands of fish harvesters in their homes, on the stages and wharves, wherever fishermen/fisherwomen gather. 

What we’re attempting has been described — not as a raid of another union — but as a full fledged revolt. 

Fish harvesters are not satisfied with their current union representation — we heard that message loud and clear everywhere we went. 

The FFAW has not been cutting it —  in terms of transparency, there is no trust between the union and its membership. 

None. 

In terms of consultation — there’s been consultation as of late, make no mistake — but only since FISH-NL came on the scene. 

Before that, when a meeting was held it was to TELL harvesters what had already been decided. 

The FFAW hasn’t been cutting it in terms of holding the government of Canada to account for Fisheries Management. 

Who’s the union? Who’s the manager? The line between the two hasn’t been blurred so much as obliterated. 

Harvesters don’t feel their interests are being put first.

There are too many conflicts of interest — between harvester, plant worker and trawlermen, between the union and government, between the union and processing companies. 

And harvesters demand change. 

They say change must come now. 

When FISH-NL held our first news conference in Petty Harbour in early September, Keith Sullivan, president of the FFAW, called us a vocal minority. 

That has never been the case. 

The unrest in the fishery is in every harbour, in every cove, in every corner of this province. 

The FFAW’s has been either been blind to it, or the union chooses to ignore it. 

Either way, change is upon us. 

This has been always been a David vs. Goliath battle. 

In terms of funding … 

FISH-NL has raised about $48,000 — primarily through donations — to fund our campaign. 

That’s a pittance compared to the funds the FFAW has access to. 

It’s been a David vs. Goliath battle in terms of the geography FISH-NL had to cover in an incredibly tight time line. 

In terms of the absence of a definitive list of fish harvesters, which I’ve already mentioned. 

In terms of constant fear mongering, and intimidation. 

FFAW representatives attended most of our meetings (or were out in the parking lot) and kept track of who came and who went. 

Despite the fact the Labour Relations Board assured us the FFAW would not have access to FISH-NL membership cards, some harvesters still feared repercussions. 

And the lies that were spread were outrageous — FISH-NL, for example, has not been funded by the offshore sector. 

For those reason alone, combined with the huge support we’ve gathered, FISH-NL urges the Labour Relations Board to proceed with a secret ballot. 

Despite the obstacles, here we are today. 

This has never been about me. 

Deflecting attention from the legitimate concerns of harvesters towards me — and my motivation for leading FISH-NL — has been a strategic decision on the part of the FFAW. 

Attack the messenger — ignore the brutal, critical message. 

The FFAW has failed its membership.

I was asked by fish harvesters to lead this revolt, and I’ve done that. 

FISH-NL is not the problem; FISH-NL is a symptom of a crisis facing our greatest industry. 

The fishery on many coasts is dying. 

It’s too hard for young people to get into the industry, and the safety of harvesters is not the No. 1 priority. 

Harvesters are being pounded by fees and charges, with no end in sight. 

Shrimp and crab are on the decline and — while codfish may be on the return — the prices are too low. 

Of all the questions that have been raised about FFAW secrecy/conflict of interest in recent months, one of the most unbelievable discoveries was that the union had proposed a 5 cent a pound ‘levy’ on lobster. 

Fish harvesters didn’t know about the FFAW proposal until FISH-NL brought it to light in early December. 

The FFAW argued the 5 cent levy was to cover the union’s “management” of the fishery. 

To quote the union: “The bulk of the work once conducted by DFO is now being done by the FFAW, with no financial or in-kind support from the processing sector.” 

How many lobster fishermen were asked their input on a levy? None. 

The fact that the union is taking over management responsibilities from DFO should be a concern to every harvester in this province … 

DFO is downloading to the FFAW, and the FFAW is taking it — without a word of complaint. 

The union cannot represent and manage in the same breathe, but that’s what’s happening. 

Has the FFAW taken over management responsibilities for other species besides lobster? 

We don’t know. 

How many other secret details has the FFAW done without the input of its membership? 

We don’t know. 

Is that the reason why the FFAW is against outsider buyers?

Maybe. 

FISH-NL has proposed that the provincial government lift all restrictions and allow out-of-province buyers into the provincial marketplace for all species.

An open and free market in the fishing industry would, at best, result in increased competition and more money in the pockets of fish harvesters. 

At worst, it would keep local buyers honest. 

The seascape of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishing industry has already changed since FISH-NL came the scene. 

Harvesters have gotten calls from their union for the first time in their lives.

More meetings have been held with harvesters since the fall than have been held in years. 

The concerns of harvesters — and there are many — have been front and centre for months. 

But it’s not enough. 

I said this at the start of our campaign and I’ll say it again: the FFAW has lost its way.

The union has mutated into a corporation more concerned with feeding itself than looking after the best interests of its membership. 

The FFAW has also consistently refused to respond to the issues raised by FISH-NL. 

FISH-NL will not let up not let up on the pressure. 

We plan to ask Revenue Canada to investigate the FRC — a not-for-profit dockside monitoring company controlled by the FFAW — for millions of dollars skimmed off the top by the union over the years. 

We’ve made that accusations for months, but not a word in reply from the FFAW. 

How is that possible? 

Where is the union oversight? There is none? 

Who keeps checks of the unions? 

No one. 

Over the coming days and weeks, the Labour Relations Board will review our application and verify the membership cards.

The Board will determine whether we have the support of at least 40 per cent of fish harvesters, which would trigger an actual vote by the Labour Relations Board. 

That vote will be 50 per cent plus one, and ultimately decide which union will represent fish harvesters.

FISH-NL would like to thank the fish harvesters who signed membership cards, and the more than 200 volunteers who circulated them around the province.

It’s been an honour and an absolute privilege to travel this province and meet fish harvesters wherever they gather. 

Thank you.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Inshore fisherman Sam Lambert hasn't paid union dues to the FFAW in 12 years



Inshore fisherman Samuel Lambert of Southport, Trinity Bay, says he hasn't paid union dues to the FFAW in about 12 years.

"The FFAW wasn't doing nothing for me," said Lambert, 71, owner of a 43 footer. "It wasn't listening to we, and shagging us in every way."

So Lambert, whom I met up with in December during a FISH-NL meeting in Hodge's Cove, did something about it.

Every year for about a dozen years, Lambert presents the below letter to the processor who buys his fish, revoking assignment of his union dues and directing that no further funds be withheld from his pay and forwarded to the FFAW.

Here's a copy of his letter. 


Find the actual legislation (Labour Relations Act) here — section 35 (3). 

Lambert also refers to the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act, section 7 (1). Find it here.

I spoke recently to Glen Branton, CEO of the province's Labour Relations Board, regarding Lambert's claim that he doesn't have to pay union dues.

Brandon wasn't aware that harvesters such as Lambert could revoke dues.

By the way, notice the hat on Lambert's head.

He's a FISH-NL supporter. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

FFAW’s 5-cent-a-pound lobster ‘levy’ most shocking of all secrets uncovered in 2016


Of all the questions that have been raised about FFAW secrecy/conflict of interest in recent months, one of the most shocking discoveries was that the union had proposed a 5 cent a pound ‘levy’ on lobster. 

Fish harvesters didn’t know about the FFAW proposal (how unbelievable is that?) until FISH-NL brought it to light in early December, and it was the Seafood Producers of Newfoundland and Labrador who actually killed it (how’s that for the ultimate irony, processors standing up for harvesters — and not their union). 

Find details of the FFAW proposal here

The FFAW argued the 5 cent levy was to cover the union’s “management” of the fishery. To quote the union: “The bulk of the work once conducted by DFO is now being done by the FFAW, with no financial or in-kind support from the processing sector.” 

The line between union and management isn’t so much blurred, as obliterated. 

How many lobster fishermen were asked their input on a levy? 

What lobster management duties has the FFAW actually taken over from DFO? 

Why has the FFAW given up on holding the Government of Canada to account for its fisheries management responsibilities as outlined under the Terms of Union? 

Has the FFAW taken over management responsibilities for other species besides lobster?

How many other secret details has the FFAW done without the input of its membership? 

Is that the reason why the FFAW is against outsider buyers?



Tuesday, December 27, 2016

FFAW tries to pry almost $3,000 in fees from Cox's Cove harvester over three-month season


Reg MacDonald, an inshore fisherman out of Cox’s Cove, Bay of Islands, coined the term Salt-Water Mafia in reference to the FFAW. 

Reg figures that between what the union actually got out of him/wanted to get out of him in fees and charges this year, the total adds up to $2,900.

Here’s his breakdown:

1) $1,200 for 150 pounds of halibut that DFO cut from each harvester on the island’s west coast this year for quota overrun. At the same time, Reg says the FFAW was given a science quota of 45 tonnes of halibut. Reg figures the FFAW “stole” his fish, and puts the $1,200 down as a loss to the FFAW. 

2) $50 fee to register with the Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board (controlled by the FFAW).

3) $50 paid to the FFAW for 220 lobster trap tags.

4) $300 in FFAW union dues (based on three-months fishing at $25 a week).

5) $200 for dockside monitoring fees (roughly $12 a trip paid to FRC, which is controlled by the FFAW).

6) $200 for halibut tags paid o the FFAW. Reg’s halibut quota is 1,050 pounds.

7) $400 for a 5 cent a pound lobster levy that the FFAW attempted to secretly introduce this year. Reg fishes an average of 200 pounds a day over two months. The secret proposal was rejected by the Association of Seafood Processors. 

8) $500 for a 10 cent a pound levy the FFAW also apparently wanted to introduce on crab. (Reg’s crab quota is 5,200 pounds.) That proposal was also turned down.

TOTAL: $2,900. 


* Harvesters who fish caplin, mackerel and herring have to pay more fees to the FFAW for each species. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Foreign trawlers continue to pillage Grand Banks of Newfoundland


Five foreign trawlers have been issued a total of six citations in recent months for illegal fishing on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, outside Canada’s 200-mile limit. 

Sept. 14: American trawler Alex Marie; cited in port at Trepassey for directed fishing for white hake on the tail of the Grand Banks. The fish was only to be taken as a by catch. 

July 21st: American trawler Titan, cited in Louisbourg, N.S. for inaccurate storage plans. 

July 7th: Spanish trawler Ana Gandon, boarded at sea on the Flemish Cap and cited for improper storage of redfish. 

June 15th: Portuguese trawler Calvao, boarded on the tail of the Grand Banks and cited for misreporting redfish catches. 

May 22nd: Spanish trawler Puente Sabaris, boarded on the Flemish Cap, and issued two citations for misreporting redfish catches. 
•••
The North Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) monitors fishing on the high seas outside’s Canada’s territorial limit, but is generally seen as toothless/useless, unable to enforce the quotas it sets. The owners/skippers of foreign trawlers cited for illegal fishing are not charged in Canadian courts. Rather, under NAFO rules it’s up to the vessel’s home country to follow through with penalties/prosecution. Ottawa has consistently refused to reveal what punishment has been imposed on foreign trawlers, saying the release of such information would be damaging to international relations. 
•••
DFO has a website that updates information on foreign trawlers cited for illegal fishing in NAFO waters, but — until this past week — the site hadn’t been updated since last March.
••• 

Canada’s commissionerers to NAFO include Bruce Chapman, executive director of the Canadian Association of Prawn Producers, and Gerard Chidley, a fisherman from Renews. The two commissioner jobs — along with the head of delegation position, which is currently held by France Pegeot, the senior assistant deputy minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) — are essentially Canada's “voice” at the table of NAFO.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Rigged or abnormally tilted? FFAW has control of system that decides new harvesters union

Make no mistake, this election is rigged, or at the very least abnormally tilted in the FFAW's favour. 

The Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board in St. John's has the definitive list of fish harvesters in the province. 


That list will likely be used to determine whether FISH-NL has enough harvesters onside (50% + 1 must sign cards of support) to force a vote. 


That vote, to be carried out by the Labour Relations Board, will ultimately decide which union will represent harvesters. 


As it happens, the FFAW controls the Certification Board (and the list).

  •••
The Certification Board's Executive Board of Directors includes: Bill Broderick, chair (Inshore Director, FFAW); George Feltham, secretary (Inshore VP, FFAW); Keith Sullivan, vice-chairperson (FFAW President); Kimberly Penney, member at large (DFO); Mark Dolomount (Ex-Officio). 

The Certification Board's office is also located in the basement of the FFAW's multi-million dollar office building in St. John's. Almost like being in bed together. 
•••
On Oct. 21st, I officially asked the Labour Relations Board to order the Certification Board to release its comprehensive list of fish harvesters to FISH-NL. 

There were 9,180 fish harvesters registered with the Board in 2015. The Certification Board refused, saying the information is confidential.
•••
There's apparently been a "flurry" of activity as of late at the Certification Board's office, with new fish harvesters signing up and older ones renewing memberships. 

FISH-NL was warned today that it may have to sign up even more harvesters. 

Keeping in mind we don't know how many there are, their names, or where they live. 

Rigged or abnormally tilted?