Fishermen angry at union over halibut quota

James McLeod
Published on July 20, 2013

Fishermen on the Northern Peninsula are complaining that their union is trying to shut them out of the lucrative halibut fishery, and Liberal fisheries critic Jim Bennett says the union is in a conflict of interest.

But FFAW representative Jason Spingle says the union is just trying to give everyone a fair crack at fishing.

In the case of Roy Gaslard, his application for quota was in past the deadline, although still well before the fishery opened.

Ford Mitchelmore said his application was denied because even though he fished for halibut last year, he didn’t catch any.

“I’ve had a licence since 1991,” Mitchelmore said. “I didn’t get one, but I did fish it. I had a hundred hooks out there.”

Both men said they believe that the FFAW is trying to get people out of the fishery because there are too many people fishing and not enough quota to go around.

Spingle said in recent years there’s been much more halibut in the water, and closer to shore, so a fishery that was traditionally done by a handful of longliners is now being done by more people.

“Up until about seven or eight years ago, no more than about 50 boats, with the vast majority of the quota being taken by 25 or 30 longliners,” he said. “We’ve gone from literally 50 up to 500.”

Spingle said the union has held meetings with fishermen and tried to come up with the best way to divvy up the quota.

“There’s no one forced out of anything anywhere in Newfoundland, but particularly here in western Newfoundland where there’s competitive fisheries,” Spingle said. “We’re trying to find a balance that’s somewhere in the middle. And we know that we’re not going to have too many fans, really, in the big picture.”

He said they’re not trying to keep anybody out of it, but as for people such as Mitchelmore and Gaslard, everyone has to follow the rules.

“Show up one day late with your moose application not filed,” he said. “You’ve got no moose licence, have you?”

Part of the anger is that fishermen file their applications through the FFAW, and they say they feel like the union is working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to get people out of the fishery.

Bennett said he believes it’s a conflict of interest, and the union shouldn’t be in the business of helping to decide how to divvy up the quota.

“They’re making rules that are unrelated to union activities, and I believe they’re in a conflict of interest,” Bennett said. “They should be on the labour side more, organizing labour.”

Bennett said in other provinces, that’s a role that the government takes on.

“Our provincial government is completely hands-off in dealings with DFO in that respect. I can’t find any instance where they’ve asked DFO to let us participate,” he said. “Our provincial government is far too laissez-faire with the fishery, and it’s not committed to the fishery whatsoever.”

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