Fishermen tired of getting ‘pushed around’

Glen Whiffen
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Want to be allowed to sell cod to buyers outside the province

You would think the majority of a fish harvester’s troubles would occur where that person does most of their work — miles out on a heaving sea, working a boat and fishing gear for long, tiring hours, searching the grounds for shellfish or groundfish while chancing sudden piercing winds and oncoming storms.

Yet, ask most any fish harvester and that is where they are most at ease — plying their trade off the coasts of the land where they live.

Fish harvesters Peter Leonard of Southern Harbour and Jeff Collett of St. John’s — both of whom fish in subdivision 3Ps off the province’s south coast — said when they are at sea, they are left alone to concentrate on making a living. It’s when their boats are tied up that their frustration with the fishing industry sets in.

“We like to see things done in a rational manner, but when you are just getting pushed around, it’s total chaos amongst the harvesters,” Collett said.

As a result of the failure of the cod fishery in 3Ps in 2013, fish harvesters formed a group to push for changes to the way decisions are made in their fishery.

Last year, most fishermen could not catch their full cod quotas because most plants in the province were not buying cod — or not buying cod at times the fishermen could catch it — and those that were buying cod offered a very low price.

Because the total allowable catch wasn’t taken, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans extended the cod fishing season in zone 3Ps, which allowed larger companies to continue to fish.

“Every year on Feb. 28, the cod season ends. Right now it’s extended for a month to drag cod, so they (large companies) are out there fishing it during the spawning season and we don’t hear any uproar from the union, from scientists or the provincial government,” Leonard said.

Collett added that the way things are going, history is repeating itself as the same mistakes are occurring as in pre-moratorium days.

“(At that time) we were dragging on the Hamilton Banks and the Funk Island Banks in the spawning season, because that was the time of year the fish were heavily concentrated on the bottom and made a real appetite for otter trawl technology,” he said.

“They are not taking into consideration the fish are there to spawn and regenerate.”

The bottom line for the fish harvesters is that if local processors are not going to buy cod for a fair market price, harvesters should be allowed to sell their catch to buyers outside the province.

For that to happen, the provincial government has to drop minimum processing requirements (MPR) and let plants in the province export cod unprocessed or outside buyers come in.

In January, Fish, Food and Allied Workers  union president Earle McCurdy said he believed minimum processing requirements are a relic of a different era. In 2013, he noted, the regulations made it uneconomical to fish, which meant part of the quota wasn’t caught.

He said that by being allowed to ship cod whole and unprocessed to the U.S. marketplace, fish harvesters in the province might be able to compete and make a decent income.

Fisheries Minister Keith Hutchings issued a statement at the time saying the provincial government was open to relaxing minimum processing requirements on cod if compelling pilot projects were proposed.

Leonard and Collett said while their group supports pilot projects, they want to see a firmer commitment on paper.

“He didn’t specify exactly what date he would lift the restrictions, but he did verbally commit to doing that,” Leonard said.

“But, after 2013, verbal committments are not what fish harvesters in 3Ps want. With the expectation of cuts coming to the crab quota, we want to be able to go out and fish our cod, and we also are asking for fair market price.”

Another issue the fish harvesters find frustrating is that, in 2011, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans took away a 10 per cent halibut bycatch allowance in the cod fishery.

“In our efforts of harvesting groundfish, we have the trouble of catching halibut and having to dump it over the side, dead or alive,” Collett said.

“Halibut might not sound like a lot, but at the end of the day, (selling it) makes up for a lot of the expense cost.

“Having to dump our halibut is also a question for conservation reasons. If you get 50 to 100 boats fishing those grounds and having to dump halibut on all those vessels, what kind of destruction is that?”

Leonard added that there is room in the fishery for all parties, but a better system has to be worked out.

“If we the fish harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador had any guts today, we would be asking for crab, shrimp, groundfish, pelagics ... (minimum processing requirements) lifted for all species,” Leonard said.

“But we are only asking for groundfish because our fish plants are not interested in it and not interested in paying any price for it.”

gwhiffen@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Hamilton Banks, Funk Island Banks MPR Allied Workers union

Geographic location: U.S., Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Leonard Picco
    March 31, 2014 - 17:38

    Before the moratorium, in 1992, we caught trap fish, round/un-gutted. At that time we were getting $0.53/lb. Here we are over 22 years later and we are still getting $0.50/lb if we are lucky. While the cost of all our fishing and living expenses have grown 3-4 times what they were back then. Haven't we have come a long way in that time. I completely agree that it is about time that someone make some drastic changes. I agree with Mr. Collett & Mr. Leonard.

  • fishermen
    March 31, 2014 - 02:32

    I know this first hand as I myself fish.. all the local buyers want the catch for close to nothing down as low as 40 cent per pound on cod fish, then when ya walk into a super market they are selling it for upwards to 7 or 8 dollars a pound .there is no wonder we want to sell out of province, because selling here is bloody murder.

  • FISHERMEN
    March 31, 2014 - 02:25

    I know about this first hand as I fish with one of these skippers, it is actually brutal trying to find a buyer at certain times(the good times) meaning when there is lots of fish to be caught no one wants it and the ones that want it basically want it for free ,and then when the fish isn't there to catch they are all looking to buy it, its a big crock of ,,,, well you get my point ,we should be allowed to sell to whom we please. what's the difference to us selling to outside the province and them guys from quebec coming over with draggers and catching the rest of the quota

  • Norman Ryan
    March 30, 2014 - 19:11

    I agree with Peter Leonard and Jeff Collett totally! Norman Ryan Fish Harvester Southern Harbour

  • Clayton
    March 30, 2014 - 19:03

    Spot on hawk. They are even going to give more away to Europe now so Ontario can sell a few more cars. Joey told them to burn their boats, difference is this government is trying to starve them out of the fishery. Why does the government not tell big oil that they must do secondary processing of the oil here? Why do the government charge the little man for filleting his fish "at sea" while the factory freezers are allowed to process it and ship it directly out without setting foot on land. Time to turn the whole works bottom up boys. Biggest problem is getting enough people with enough guts to turn it all bottom up. Maybe it's time we turn it right side up. The government has already got it bottom up.

  • david
    March 29, 2014 - 18:37

    Self-employed and unskilled in a pure commodity business. Everyone else on Earth can understand that getting "pushed around" is exactly what this set of life circumstances yields. Everywhere. Everyone except Newfoundlanders, who can't seem to figure it out. After 400 years, here we still are. Looking to government to save us form our complete, uninterrupted ignorance.

    • 3PS fisher
      April 01, 2014 - 12:57

      Comments like yours is one of our biggest problems, ignorance! We are not looking for anything from government but for them to stop being the barrier to us making the living we know is there to make. Yes, getting pushed around is part of being in this industry but what we are saying is that we are standing up to the bullying that has been happening in this system. We are not looking for handouts! The biggest problem in this industry is the lack of communication, the miscommunication, the lack of accountability and the lack of transparency and trust between all players in this industry. Our days of senseless demonstration have passed. We are moving our fight with research, numbers and facts that will not be able to be disputed! Stay tuned!

    • 3PS fisher
      April 01, 2014 - 13:05

      Comments like yours is one of our biggest problems, ignorance! We are not looking for anything from government but for them to stop being the barrier to us making the living we know is there to make. Yes, getting pushed around is part of being in this industry but what we are saying is that we are standing up to the bullying that has been happening in this system. We are not looking for handouts! The biggest problem in this industry is the lack of communication, the miscommunication, the lack of accountability and the lack of transparency and trust between all players in this industry. Our days of senseless demonstration have passed. We are moving our fight with research, numbers and facts that will not be able to be disputed! Stay tuned!

  • Hawk
    March 29, 2014 - 07:27

    You hear all the time about conservation, what a joke when you have to throw dead fish away to rot. Resettlement is alive and will in NL. take away Fish Harvesters resources and they will have to come to St John's or some other large center to work and live . The Cartel and Governments ends up with the fish resource. It will never get any better because we are not hungry enough to fight for lot in life.