Sometimes it takes the wisdom of Solomon to solve fisheries crises in this province. And now, workers in Fortune are faced with a Solomon-like decision — split the baby in half or continue fighting for the whole shooting match.
In this case, most seem willing to choose the former.
Last week, the province cut a deal with Ocean Choice International (OCI) to keep its Fortune plant open. The company will employ 110 workers in Fortune in exchange for shipping 80 per cent of its yellowtail flounder quota overseas for processing.
The local workers and the town are behind the deal. The Fisheries, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union is not. The government has said it will not impose the deal unless the union agrees to come on board.
Union boss Earle McCurdy says the FFAW was invited to the table after the deal was struck. He’s been trying to insert new terms. On Monday, plant workers from the town came to St. John’s to confront their union leadership.
For the past couple of years, former fisheries minister Darin King has sparred frequently with McCurdy over the so-called restructuring of the provincial fishery. The union, King says, is obstructionist and is preventing an organized overhaul from taking place.
For fishermen, however, restructuring has come to mean something more one-sided: job losses, plant closures and dying communities.
It is a longstanding principle in Newfoundland that fish caught by local companies must be processed here. But the stalemate with OCI has shown no sign of breaking, and the province has finally agreed to cut its losses.
McCurdy is unwilling to accept this new reality.
It’s fine to stand on principle, but with no one willing to process the fish, principle doesn’t keep communities alive or food on the table.
The fact is, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the fishery has been propped up by supply side management rules far past any point that is sustainable. When we talk about restructuring, we are talking not so much about lateral changes as about capitulating to raw market forces. And that means a smaller fishery, with fewer protectionist rules.
Under King, the government has, to some extent, stopped resorting to euphemisms. Perhaps we should just do away with the term restructuring altogether.
As for McCurdy, he has to stop his duplicitous approach. With fishermen tugging from both sides of the issue, standing on outdated principles will get him nowhere. He needs to show leadership and wisdom, and stop trying to please everyone.