Friday, July 22, 2016

Federal Auditor General asked to investigate FFAW for conflict of interest



Michael Ferguson
Auditor General of Canada
240 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0G6, Canada

Mr. Ferguson,

I’m writing to request that your office investigate Government of Canada funds distributed to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW), a St. John’s-based union representing most fishery workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, for potential conflict of interest. 

I also ask that your office review the awarding of a controversial snow crab quota by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to a company with close ties to the FFAW — also for potential conflict of interest and misrepresentation.

The FFAW receives untold millions of dollars a year from various federal departments to administer/oversee various fisheries programs in the province, while, at the same time, the union is expected to hold Ottawa to account on its day-to-day management and overall policy decisions.

The obvious conflict undermines the faith of thousands of fishery workers in — not only their union — but the entire industry. Normal checks and balances that accompany a union-management dynamic can be compromised when funds change hands between the two, potential negatively impacting the entire fishing industry.

I’m requesting that your review extend back at least a decade, and make public all funds from all government departments/Crown corporations directed to the FFAW. 

As a former Member of Parliament (St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, 2011-2015), and after receiving concerns from fishery workers/FFAW members around the province, I attempted to determine the amount/sources of federal money directed to the union in any given year by filing a series of questions on the Order Paper. 

While some figures were revealed (the FFAW was paid almost $7.5 million alone between 2011 and 2014 to administer the Atlantic lobster sustainability measures program), I could not obtain them all.

The second matter I bring to your attention is a snow crab quota awarded to the Newfoundland company, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters, in 1996 and a potential conflict of interest involving the FFAW. 

In June 1995, Ches Cribb, then-Vice-President of the FFAW’s Deep Sea Sector, wrote the licensing division of Fisheries and Oceans in St. John’s requesting that the federal department give “priority access” to the developing offshore crab fishery to struggling deep sea fisherman.

According to correspondence obtained through the federal Access to Information and Privacy Act, that request was denied, but the very next year, in February 1996, Cribb made another request for a snow crab quote. 

He made that request (which was eventually granted)  —  not as vice-president of the FFAW’s deep sea sector — but as president of Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters, the private company asking for the quota.

It’s not known whether Cribb still worked for the FFAW when he made the request on behalf of Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters, but some of the correspondence forwarded from the private company to DFO was done on FFAW letterhead.

As well, the company’s address — P.O. Box 881, Marystown, Newfoundland — was the same address as Cribb’s FFAW office. 

The conflict of interest would appear obvious. 

Further, in applying for an offshore snow crab quota, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters initially presented itself to DFO as a cooperative (“one member, one vote”), but that description would appear to be a misrepresentation. The company's crab quota has been renewed every since since 1996 and profits over that time (which have never been reported) would be in the millions of dollars. 

To conclude, fishermen cannot work in Newfoundland and Labrador unless they’re members of the FFAW. At the same time, many of them have lost faith in their union and fear speaking out because of retaliation from both the FFAW and DFO.

A thorough review by your office would help clear the air and restore confidence in a fishing industry perpetually in crisis. 

Sincerely,


Ryan Cleary,

St. John’s, NL 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

South coast fishermen want access to more scallop beds; adjacency principle should be implemented across the board

Dominic LeBlanc 
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard,
Ottawa, Ontario 
K1A 0G6, 
Canada

July 20, 2016 

Dear Minister,

I write to you on behalf of inshore scallop fishermen from the south coast of Newfoundland (fishing zone 3Ps) who are requesting that fishing restrictions imposed on them be lifted immediately. 

More specifically, the fishermen — who are restricted to fishing on the Northern scallop bed on the St. Pierre Bank — be allowed to once again fish on the St. Pierre Bank’s other two scallop areas, the Southern and Middle beds.

Those beds have been reserved for the Nova Scotia offshore fleet since 2006, when — upon the recommendation of David Hooley — the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans implemented fleet separation for sea scallops. 

Inshore fishermen, however, are having a harder and harder time making a go of it, particularly in light of the 22 per cent decline in the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for 3Ps sea scallops in 2016, combined with the downturn in other fisheries such as crab.

The south coast fishermen — who reside closest to the scallop fishing grounds —  were encouraged this past May when the Liberal Party of Canada adopted a resolution calling on the Government of Canada to make “adjacency” the defining principle when it comes to deciding who gets to catch the resource. 

More importantly, the federal government's recent decision to eliminate the Last-in, First-out policy in the northern shrimp fishery off Newfoundland and Labrador in favour of a proportional sharing arrangement that recognizes the principle of adjacency was particularly welcome. 

The south coast fishermen believe the adjacency principle should carry over to sea scallops on the St. Pierre Bank and urge you to eliminate existing fishing restrictions in favour of a fairer sharing arrangement. 

Sincerely, 

Ryan Cleary, 
St. John’s, NL 

cc 
The Honourable Judy Foote, Liberal MP Bonavist-Trinity-Burin, and Minister of Public Services and Procurement
The Honourable Steve Crocker, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Newfoundland and Labrador 



Monday, July 4, 2016

More questions regarding FFAW's close ties to controversial crab quota; private company initially billed as co-op



For years, NL’s largest fisheries union, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers, denied connection to a company awarded a crab quota in the mid-1990s, but information released in recent weeks through the Access to Information and Privacy Act reveals close ties. And while Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters initially billed itself to DFO as a co-operative, questions remain as to what happens with the profit. Find Saturday’s (July 2nd) letter to the editor of The Telegram here.

TIMELINE

June 12, 1995, Ches Cribb — vice-president of the FFAW’s Deep Sea Sector — wrote a letter to Jim Baird with the licensing division of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in St. John’s. 

“I am requesting that DFO give priority access to the developing offshore crab and scallops fishery to deep sea fisherman who have historically fished in that are,” Cribb wrote in the letter, obtained this past June through the federal Access to Information and Privacy Act. 

“These men could fish as a co-operative. I understand the DFO policy of licensing enterprises, however, I was told that DFO have granted allocations to associations in other Atlantic jurisdictions who don’t have licensed enterprises.”

June 22, 1995, Baird denied the request, but left the door open for future possibilty. 

“Your request will be given consideration in the context of the ongoing licencing policy review, which will define access to the fishery in the future,” Baird wrote in a June 22nd, 1995 response letter. 

Feb. 27th, 1996, Cribb wrote to then-DFO Minister, the late Fred Mifflin, with a proposal by Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters for access to the snow crab fishery outside 200 miles. 

Cribb wrote the letter — not as vice-president of the FFAW’s Deep Sea Sector — but as president of Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters. 

The letter outlined how the entity was “incorporated under the Companies Act,” but “based on co-operative principles (one person, one vote).” 

Cribb wrote that the company represented deep sea fishermen — pointing out how 1,200 worked on offshore vessels prior to 1992 (year of the northern cod moratorium), but only 70 were “actively working.”

“For years they fished flatfish on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks, the same grounds which now boast an abundance of snow crab,” Cribb wrote.

“These fishermen developed the offshore fishery and supplied fish to plants in communities such as Grand Bank, Fortune, Marystown and Catalina.”

“We believe it is important that your government recognizes the historical attachment of these fishermen to the offshore and grant access to this developing fishery outside the 200 miles to the men who traditionally fished in this area.”

Under the proposal's "Conclusion," Cribb wrote: “For the past two years, the offshore fishermen of Newfoundland have made representation to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for licences to fish non-traditional species in their established fishing areas. This proposal is the culmination of extensive discussions which focused on the opportunity for offshore fishermen to diversify into the snow crab fishery outside the 200-mile limit.”

March 26, 1996, Mifflin writes back to Cribb acknowledging receipt of his letter. 

May 28th, 1996, Cribb writes a fax to DFO informing them that Offshore Fisheries Resource Harvesting Inc. (there’s been a change in the company’s name) had made arrangements for two FPI trawlers to temporarily fish the crab quota it had applied for. Cribb’s letter is faxed with an FFAW cover letter, and the address for Offshore Fisheries Resource Harvesting Inc. is the same as the FFAW’s office in Marystown. 

June 6, 1996, Offshore Fisheries Resource Harvesting Inc. is issued a 375-tonne exploratory crab licence outside 200 miles. Again, the company’s address is listed as the same address as the FFAW’s Marystown office. 
Aug. 25, 1997, Offshore Fisheries Resource Harvesting Inc. issued a 500-tonne exploratory crab licence outside 200 miles. Company address again listed as FFAW’s Marystown office. 

•••

“Our union does not own a shrimp boat, a crab boat, a shrimp quota, or a crab quota, nor do we have shares in any of the above, nor do we own in whole or in part any organization that has such assets.”
— Earle McCurdy, March 2008. 

“Up to this day we have 25 people employed, fishermen that were ousted by the moratorium and those that weren’t. Those that are working and have training needs and things like that and if they need funding for certification we’ll help them out.”
— Ches Cribb, 2004.

More questions regarding FFAW's close ties to controversial crab quota; private company initially billed as 'co-op'



For years, NL’s largest fisheries union, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers, denied connection to a company awarded a crab quota in the mid-1990s, but information released in recent weeks through the Access to Information and Privacy Act reveals close ties. And while Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters initially billed itself to DFO as a co-operative, questions remain as to what happens with the profit. Find Saturday’s (July 2nd) letter to the editor of The Telegram here.

TIMELINE

June 12, 1995, Ches Cribb — vice-president of the FFAW’s Deep Sea Sector — wrote a letter to Jim Baird with the licensing division of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in St. John’s. 

“I am requesting that DFO give priority access to the developing offshore crab and scallops fishery to deep sea fisherman who have historically fished in that are,” Cribb wrote in the letter, obtained this past June through the federal Access to Information and Privacy Act. 

“These men could fish as a co-operative. I understand the DFO policy of licensing enterprises, however, I was told that DFO have granted allocations to associations in other Atlantic jurisdictions who don’t have licensed enterprises.”

June 22, 1995, Baird denied the request, but left the door open for future possibilty. 

“Your request will be given consideration in the context of the ongoing licencing policy review, which will define access to the fishery in the future,” Baird wrote in a June 22nd, 1995 return letter. 

Feb. 27th, 1996, Cribb wrote to then-DFO Minister, the late Fred Mifflin, with a proposal by Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters for access to the snow crab fishery outside 200 miles. 

Cribb wrote the letter — not as vice-president of the FFAW’s Deep Sea Sector — but as president of Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters. 

The letter outlined how the entity was “incorporated under the Companies Act,” but “based on co-operative principles (one person, one vote).” 

Cribb wrote that the company represented deep sea fishermen — pointing out how 1,200 worked on offshore vessels prior to 1992 (year of the northern cod moratorium), but only 70 were “actively working.”

“For years they fished flatfish on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks, the same grounds which now boast an abundance of snow crab,” Cribb wrote.

“These fishermen developed the offshore fishery and supplied fish to plants in communities such as Grand Bank, Fortune, Marystown and Catalina.”

“We believe it is important that your government recognizes the historical attachment of these fishermen to the offshore and grant access to this developing fishery outside the 200 miles to the men who traditionally fished in this area.”

Under the heading, Conclusion, Cribb wrote: “For the past two years, the offshore fishermen of Newfoundland have made representation to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for licences to fish non-traditional species in their established fishing areas. This proposal is the culmination of extensive discussions which focused on the opportunity for offshore fishermen to diversify into the snow crab fishery outside the 200-mile limit.”

March 26, 1996, Mifflin writes back to Cribb acknowledging receipt of his letter. 

May 28th, 1996, Cribb writes a fax to DFO informing them that Offshore Fisheries Resource Harvesting Inc. (there’s been a change in the company’s name) had made arrangements for two FPI trawlers to temporarily fish the crab quota it had applied for. Crib’s letter is faxed with an FFAW cover letter, and the address for Offshore Fisheries Resource Harvesting Inc. is the same as the FFAW’s office in Marystown. 

June 6, 1996, Offshore Fisheries Resource Harvesting Inc. is issued a 375-tonne exploratory crab licence outside 200 miles. Again, the company’s address is listed as the same address as the FFAW’s Marystown office. 
Aug. 25, 1997, Offshore Fisheries Resource Harvesting Inc. issued a 500-tonne exploratory crab licence outside 200 miles. Company address again listed as FFAW’s Marystown office. 

•••

“Our union does not own a shrimp boat, a crab boat, a shrimp quota, or a crab quota, nor do we have shares in any of the above, nor do we own in whole or in part any organization that has such assets.”
— Earle McCurdy in a March 2008 letter to the editor of The Independent newspaper. 

“Up to this day we have 25 people employed, fishermen that were ousted by the moratorium and those that weren’t. Those that are working and have training needs and things like that and if they need funding for certification we’ll help them out.”

— Ches Cribb in a 2004 interview with The Independent.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Expropriate offshore shrimp licences in favour of regional quotas, or charge royalties for a legacy fishery fund




I gave the following presentation today (May 24th) in St. John’s to the Ministerial Advisory Panel conducting an external review of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Last-in, First-out policy (LIFO) for the northern shrimp fishery.

To begin, I’d like to thank the Ministerial Advisory Panel for the work you’re doing in carrying out this external review of the federal department’s Last-in, First-out policy for the northern shrimp fishery.

Thank you.

The panel is to provide advice on whether the LIFO policy specific to the northern shrimp fishery should be continued, modified or abolished. 

My recommendation is that the policy be abolished. 

But I’ll get there in a moment — I’d like to first put my presentation, my comments, in context. 

My perspective is that of a former Newfoundland and Labrador Member of Parliament (2011-2015). Prior to that I was a journalist.

I have followed the fisheries closely since the early 1990s, since before the collapse of the northern cod fishery, back in 1992. 

For most of my four and a half years in Ottawa I served on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans — the only MP from Newfoundland and Labrador to do so. 

Two years ago, in the winter/spring of 2014, there was word of cuts to the quota for northern shrimp. 

And there was fear of the disproportionate impact that the Last-in, First-out policy would have on the inshore sector — on inshore fishermen, inshore plants, and the rural economy. 

So, on April 7th, 2014, I introduced a motion to the standing committee. 

The motion read:

That the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans immediately undertake a study of the impacts of the cuts to the inshore shrimp quota off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador on fishermen and the local economy; and that the study include a review of the department's science related to the fishery and the management policy known as last-in, first out; and that witnesses include but are not limited to DFO officials, DFO scientists, local fishermen and local processors.

The motion was debated — mostly in-camera, out of the public eye. 

The Conservative government of the day and its majority MPs on the standing committee defended the LIFO policy.

They were not in favour of changing it, which was obvious. 

In the end, the Conservative-controlled standing committee passed my motion, but with amendments. 

The study would not so much investigate the economic impacts of a cut to the shrimp quota and a review of the science, as my motion recommended. 

I’ll read you the motion that passed, so you can see the difference:

“It was agreed — That the Committee immediately undertake a study on the changing ocean conditions or other factors off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador that have led to stock fluctuations in northern shrimp and other species; and that the study include a review of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ science related to the shrimp fishery and conservation management measures.” 

In the end, the standing committee held four meetings —  all in Ottawa — and the committee did not make any recommendations to the minister on the LIFO policy.  

Instead, a transcript of the witness testimony was forwarded to the Minister’s office, with no comment whatsoever from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. 

As an MP, it wasn’t the first time I felt like a trained seal … 

To reiterate the sentiment I expressed at the start of my presentation, this external review of the LIFO policy is extremely welcome. 

While the Conservatives — back then in 2014 — were for the LIFO policy, and against changes, the stand of the New Democratic Party of Canada was … complicated. 

Leading up to the 2015 federal election, Leader Tom Mulcair visited Newfoundland and Labrador and said he was in favour of eliminating the LIFO policy. 

Straight up elimination. He used that very word. 

That caused an immediate reaction from NDP MPs representing the Maritime provinces, home of some of the holders of offshore northern shrimp licences.  

The NDP MPs from the Maritimes didn’t necessarily want to see the LIFO policy eliminated. 

In the end, the NDP changed the wording of its policy that it would fix the LIFO policy. 

A subtle change — but a major one — from eliminate LIFO to fix LIFO. 

I raise the stands of the federal Conservative and New Democratic parties with regards to the LIFO policy to give a little taste of the political pressures that impact decisions in fisheries management. 

They are ever present and enormous — and the minister of Fisheries and Oceans has absolute control, more than any other federal minister.

I’m not here to debate the details of how the 1997 LIFO policy came about.

I’ve heard recollections from both sides — inshore and offshore — of the circumstances surrounding the drawing up of the policy. 

I can say this with authority — circumstances change. 

Fisheries change. 

The health of different stocks change — they rise and fall. 

Both sides in this debate have spent a fortune lately on advertising campaigns — attempts to win over the public.

The inshore sector says the vibrant rural economy faces a “grave” threat, so it’s time to choose — “corporate trawlers or home.”

“The corporations will survive no matter not. We will not.”

“Choose home,” is the message of the inshore sector. 

The corporations — a.k.a. the offshore sector, the Canadian Association of Prawn Producers — presents itself as “fishing for Newfoundland and Labrador.”

The offshore sector highlights how it employs hundreds of people from 116 communities, “generating the most value from every shrimp.” 

As it stands, the LIFO policy essentially means that the last entrants into the fishery for northern shrimp — in this case the last entrant, literally, was the inshore fleet — should be the first out if there’s a reduction in quota.

Ironically, the inshore sector argues its been around for hundreds of years — they were the first ones fishing, period,  — and should be the last ones out. 

Again, I recommend that LIFO be abolished. 

In its place, Fisheries and Oceans should establish fair sharing in the shrimp fishery so that everybody shares in the ups and downs of the resource.

Both the inshore and offshore sectors have a place in the northern shrimp fishery.

But in the case of northern shrimp — as with all species — the resource-access pillars of adjacency and historic dependency must be respected first and foremost.

They must be the constants. 

Fish should not be shopped around for political purposes.

It was just last week that the federal Liberal government decided to return the halibut quota allocation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the previous regional sharing agreement. 

The former Conservative Minister Gail Shea had changed the formula so that fishermen in her home province of PEI were given a preferential share of the halibut. 

Those types of political decisions must stop. 

But they won’t unless there’s a fundamental policy change, which must  go for all fisheries — not just northern shrimp. 

Again, I recommend that LIFO be abolished. 

In its place, a new resource-access policy — one based on adjacency and historical dependence — must be instituted.

Those closest to the resource must benefit the most from the resource. 

That’s my first recommendation. 

My second recommendation is that the ownership of offshore shrimp licenses — foreign and domestic — should also be further explored. 

Who exactly holds the rights to the licenses and where are profits going? That information should be public. 

This is a common property resource we’re talking about — owned by the people. 

Third, regional community-based quotas and licenses should be explored.

Regional-based quotas such as the one held by the Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company seem to work well for that region of the province. 

Can regional-based quotas work for other regions of the province? 

I would say absolutely yes.

The federal government should explore expropriating offshore licences in favour of region or community based quotas. 

Rural communities should be the primary beneficiaries of all resource development.

We must have the ability to do for ourselves. 

In the absence of regional-based quotas, holders of offshore northern shrimp licences should pay a royalty on profit to a fishery fund. 

Norway, for example, has an oil fund of almost a trillion dollars whereby taxes from oil profits are invested. 

There’s been talk in Newfoundland and Labrador as well of the creation of a legacy fund for the oil industry (or why such a fund hasn’t already been created) — a fund used to collect offshore oil revenues to protect the provincial treasury in the decades to come. 

The same thing should happen in the fishery whereby the holders of offshore licences pay a royalty on profits into a fishery fund — a fishery legacy fund. 

A fund to offset the highs and lows — the ups and downs in different fisheries — and to invest in rural communities that are adjacent to the resource and have an obvious historical attachment. 

The choice should not be between inshore and offshore sectors of the fishery … and who contributes more, which sector is more important. 

There must be a place for both. 

The sole consideration should be what’s good for Newfoundland and Labrador, which was built on the fisheries in the first place.