The Anything But Conservative campaign is back on — at least it is for the leader of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ (FFAW) union.
FFAW president Earle McCurdy said inshore fishermen will unfairly bear the brunt of shrimp quota cuts that were quietly announced Thursday by the Harper government.
Shrimp quotas for inshore fishermen in Zone 6 will be cut by 40 per cent compared to a 10-per-cent cut for offshore harvesters.
“If anyone can make a case that that’s fair, I’d like to hear it,” McCurdy told reporters Friday.
Zone 6 spans the southern Labrador coastline to northeastern Newfoundland about as far as Cape Freels.
“We’re going to fight this tooth and nail. That just isn’t good enough,” said McCurdy.
“I can’t imagine anyone who works in the shrimp fishery, on a fishing vessel, or in a shrimp plant … would even contemplate voting for somebody who’d give us that kind of a shaft.”
Overall, the inshore shrimp fleet is facing quota cuts totalling 52 million pounds this year compared to last year.
McCurdy said that reduction is the equivalent of shutting down four shrimp plants.
‘Share the pain’
Last fall, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) reduced the total allowable catch for shrimp off Newfoundland by 37 per cent to 19,000 tonnes.
McCurdy acknowledged the shrimp stocks are in decline, but said the inshore fleet shouldn’t shoulder the brunt of quota cuts.
“I think it’s well known that that resource is not what it was three or four years ago. We recognize there’s going to be quota cuts this year.
“Share the pain on an equitable basis,” he said. “If anybody wonders why we wanted the MOU to produce something, why we wanted things like adjustment programs for dislocated people, Why we wanted fleet reduction to help accommodate quota cuts, I think surely it’s obvious now.
“I think we’re paying dearly.”
McCurdy estimates up to 1,800 fish harvesters and 1,500 workers at 13 shrimp plants will suffer an “awful wallop” to their finances this year.
“If anyone can make a case that that’s fair, I’d like to hear it.” - Earle McCurdy
“Every shrimp plant in this province has a huge question mark over it.”
He said two principles should apply in deciding how shrimp quotas are assigned or cut — adjacency and where the bulk of the jobs are.
‘Bare bones’ email
McCurdy is also irked by the way the news was delivered — via a “bare bones” email from a federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans official.
“No such thing as a phone all or anything saying, look, we’ve got some really bad news here,” he said. “What we got was an email yesterday (Thursday) telling us just how royally we’re going to get shafted.”
He said the shrimp quota cuts were described as an interim decision, but he isn’t sure what that means.
McCurdy said the interim quota leaves up to 20 million pounds of shrimp in the water.
He suggested the quota hold-back could be an election ploy.
“Are they hoping that they’ll have some of their candidates maybe pretend that they were the ones who got a little extra at the last minute, and somehow that would help their electoral chances?”
Lower Churchill promise
News of the quota cuts came as Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in St. John’s to announce a loan guarantee, or equivalent, for the $6.2-billion Muskrat Falls hydro development.
McCurdy said the provincial government was “too busy giving the prime minister a standing ovation” Thursday to talk about shrimp plants closing and fishing enterprises going out of business.
He didn’t think much of Harper’s promise of a loan guarantee.
“A loan guarantee? That’s what you do with your young fella who’s getting his first car and he can’t get a loan. So you co-sign it for him so he can get the financing, not expecting to pay a cent on it.
“That’s not going to cost them a copper.”