Gander — For a good part of the last decade, Paul Kean has had a recurring conversation with one of his children who moved to Alberta a while back.
“I’ve got a son up in Grand Prairie now. He calls home, like he has for seven years, to say, ‘I want to come home, Dad. I want to go fishing. I want to get on a crew boat.’
“He has it in his blood, but all he hears from everyone is that there’s no future in the fishery.”
Kean knows about the fishery and its future. For years, he’s been working in the industry in this province, and currently represents workers at the Beothic Fish Processors Ltd. plant in Valleyfield in his role as a board member with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union (FFAW).
At the union’s annual general meeting, held in Gander, Kean urged his fellow delegates to support a resolution advocating the assignment of quotas to “people who fish and invest in fishing vessels.”
Kean said the survival of the industry will hang on the level of control harvesters have over the resource, as well as the control exerted by large processing companies, and it’s essential that those harvesters know they have the support of all segments of the industry.
“It’s absolutely necessary for us all to support each other, no matter what the sector of the industry. We’ve got declining enrolment in our plant numbers, we have harvesters retiring and getting out of the fishery, therefore the strength is not with our members like it should be.
“We need solidarity, and we need every member to support each other, and that’s the reason why we got past some of the turmoil related to issues in the past. We didn’t just have harvesters. We had plant workers there supporting each other, and that’s what we’ve got to maintain in order to go forward.”
Kean said a joint effort is crucial if the industry is to survive, because that’s what it will take to attract young people to the job.
“If the harvesters don’t bring the product to the plants, where are our plants? We’re struggling as it is, so it’s absolutely necessary that we unite. We have to be strong, and make sure we’ve got a viable industry, if not for ourselves, then for the people coming in behind.
“You hear all sorts of things in communities about the fishery. But if we do our marketing properly, if we approach things properly, we can have a viable fishery and people will want to come in behind us, and we must get that mindset straight in the people who have the interest.”
George Feltham is a fisherman from the Eastport Peninsula. He is also a board member with the FFAW.
He said he’s bothered by the changes he’s seen over the years when it comes to the number of people actually working and making a living in the fishery.
“There are 150 licences gone in the lobster fishery to make it better for the people that are here. That’s 300 people. That’s equivalent to a processing plant scattered through the province, through the communities,” he said.
“I come from the Eastport Peninsula. It’s a tourism area, but there were roughly 90 harvesters on the Eastport Peninsula that had crews. Now, we’re down to probably 60 that have crews.”
Feltham said fewer harvesters working in the industry translates into fewer jobs in communities around the province, including those in his area.
“We had two plants that were operating, I’m not sure how many weeks, but probably 20 or 30 weeks a year. Now, we have one plant that’s operating to the point of probably 60 workers, and another plant of 25 workers.
“We are feeling the effects, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a plant closure or a harvester that’s losing control, we have to build this industry and we can’t do it with the companies controlling the quotas.”
Feltham said losing control of the harvesting sector means harvesters have to compete with large companies, something he said is impossible to do.
“We can’t compete with companies because we don’t have the processing plants to be able to do that. They’re the ones that are controlling the harvesters to the point they can set prices, they can dictate markets, they can manipulate markets, whereas we are the bottom line. We have no one else to pass it to.”
He said both communities and industry players have to come together to save the fishery.
“Harvesters have to contribute to our communities as well. The harvesters have to control the quotas, and create meaningful work in their communities where possible.
“We have to create work, with the ability that we can, with the resource that we’ve got, that makes it feasible for both plant workers and harvesters as well.”