FFAW protests restructuring

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James McLeod
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Fleet separation, owner-operator policies off limits, McCurdy says

Hundreds of fish harvesters pounded sticks against the DFO building in White Hills Monday, making enough of a racket to be sure they were heard.

With a red bullhorn, Fish, Food and Allied Workers union president Earle McCurdy delivered his message: don’t even think about touching the fleet separation and owner-operator principles that are currently part of the foundation of fisheries regulation.

“They wanted to hear from people. Well, they’re hearing from us today that we’re not prepared to let those fundamental principles go,” McCurdy told the media.

“They should be strengthened, not weakened,”McCurdy said.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) fleet separation policy stipulates that licences cannot be issued to fishing vessels under 65 feet, to limit corporate control of inshore fishing vessels.

The owner-operator policy attempts to make sure fishing enterprises are independent, with the licence holder being the person who operates the vessel.

The federal government is doing a comprehensive fisheries policy review, and held a consultation session in St. John’s. McCurdy said the consultation session was by invitation only, and the people in the room were overwhelmingly processors and large corporate interests.

McCurdy said he asked several times whether the fleet separation and owner-operator policies were off limits, or whether they’re part of the review. He said he couldn’t get a clear answer from the DFO officials.

“That told me all I needed to know, that this thing is up for grabs,” he said.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield said the government is taking a hard look at fisheries regulations to improve an industry that isn’t performing as well as it should be.

“I continue to hear that Canadian fishermen remain among the lowest earners in Canada.  Despite our natural access to the resource, Canada’s fishery is becoming a smaller and smaller player on the world stage,” Ashfield said. “Now is not the time to shutter the debate on how to improve how we do business. We are engaging with all stakeholders across the country to explore how we can better manage Canada’s fishery for the long-term use of the resource and how Canadian fishermen can earn more from it.”

Earlier in the day, the FFAW held a public meeting at the Holiday Inn, where the tone was downright angry.

“We, the fishing industry, is under attack,” said George Feltham, a harvester from Bonavista Bay, and vice-president of the FFAW inshore division. “They’re taking away my fish and they’re taking away the jobs from this province.”

In New Zealand, sometimes touted as a successfully deregulated fishery, McCurdy said the government is investigating allegations of outright slavery among foreign workers on fishing vessels.

“We’re not talking about Somalia here, we’re talking about New Zealand, a country very similar to Canada,” McCurdy said. “People might say, you’re kind of going off half-cocked talking about slave labour. I guess the question is, if that’s where it ended up — where radical deregulation took them — in New Zealand over a period of time — and that took a number of years to get to that stage — why would it be any different here?”

Harvesters at the meeting said this has the potential to be a pivotal fight for the union.

“You only have to look at the numbers that turned out today and that will prove that it is a big thing for the fishing industry,” said John Ralph, a fisherman from Bellevue, who fishes in Trinity Bay.

Ralph said he worries that if the industry becomes corporate controlled, the large companies will push the government to set quotas and regulations based on profits, as opposed to what’s best for fish stocks.

Jason Sullivan, a harvester on the Southern Shore, said as far as he’s concerned, the government needs to get corporations out of it altogether, and move towards a co-op system.

“It’s a sin what’s going to happen to the industry. Somebody’s got to stand up,” he said. “We’ve got to eliminate the merchants. That’s the only way it’s ever going to work.”

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: FFAW, DFO, Allied Workers union McCurdy said.The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Holiday Inn

Geographic location: Canada, White Hills, New Zealand Bonavista Bay Somalia Trinity Bay

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Recent comments

  • Fishery is not important....it is a liability
    March 01, 2012 - 07:37

    P Early - But remember, Ottawa represents all of Canada, and they are not speaking to save the fishery and the lives of the costal peoples are not that important to Canada as a whole. I argue that this is okay. What is more important than saving the fishery and the lives of the costal peoples is having trade policies that allow Canadian BUSINESSES to extract resources from other countures and import goods via free trade. We have to let corporations harvest our resources because we want our Canadian corportation to be able to extract resources from foreign countries. Canada wins when we trade the small assets of NL for access to the greater access pool that the world has to offer. Sure, some individuals lose, but overall, Canada wins. Essentially, there are just too many benefits that will be compromised by ottawa taking action the fishery and the lives of the costal peoples. SO, in the interests of the rest of Canada, Ottawa does nothing. And that is why they get my votes. I support the decision....the fishery is the way of the past. It served its purpose, but now it is a liability that should be eliminated. And the product from the fishery is essentially obsolete as farm fishing is more efficiently. SO, good job Ottawa, and good job on the NF government to not speaking against the DFO....what is happening to the fishery and the lives of the costal peoples is for the overall benefit to Canadians and Canada as a whole.

  • Copernicus
    February 29, 2012 - 01:12

    A co-op system is the only way forward for the NL fishery. The b'ys in Southern Labrador have a good system that is fair and equitable and if you want the big corporations out and save the inshore fleet, it's your only choice.

  • p earle
    February 28, 2012 - 10:12

    Thats a yes to Casey post. pe

  • Doug
    February 28, 2012 - 08:28

    I don't think I've ever seen FFAW in a sentence without the word 'protest' attached to it. Any time any change is proposed, the FFAW is opposed to it and want to keep the status quo. In case Hurl McCurdy and company haven't noticed, the current situation is hopeless and change is desperately needed.

  • Casey
    February 28, 2012 - 07:06

    'The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) fleet separation policy stipulates that licences cannot be issued to fishing vessels under 65 feet, to limit corporate control of inshore fishing vessels.' I think the above sentence should read, 'fishing vessels OVER 65 feet'. Maybe this just goes to show how much NL's journalists care about the fishery. The fishery could be a gold mine if Ottawa would get serious about managing the resource properly. Take a look at any map showing the offshore banks around NL. There is a huge area for fish to spawn and grow. With fewer fishermen left the EI issue would not be such a problem with healthy and plentiful stocks to harvest from. Unless Ottawa comes onside there soon will be no fishery, which is what their plan seems to be. So sad that not even people with the ability to have the real problems in the fishery brought to light, like journalists, seem to be playing games while the collapse continues. For a better perspective on how Ottawa has and continues to handle the fishery check out the link below. http://www.thetelegram.com/News/Local/2012-02-02/article-2884281/Report-says-science-not-minister-should-rule-Canadas-fisheries/1

    • p earle
      February 28, 2012 - 10:08

      Right. And the first step that must be taken to stop whats happening, because of Ottawa, is for the premier of this province to speak up to save the resource and the lives of our coastal peoples. That must happen. But they will not do it. There is a reason why our government wont speak up on our fishery, which automatically means to speak against the fisheries policies of the DFO. Do you know what that reason is? p e