Active scallop fishermen not pleased with court decision

Published on March 14, 2016

Five active scallop fishermen are speaking out against a court case decision that will see inactive license holders receive over $30,000 in compensation for a lost section of fishing ground. They are, from left, Jarvis Walsh, Boyd Mitchelmore, Ted Gibbons, Gerald Genge and Sidney Mitchelmore.

©Melissa Jenkins/TC Media

There are two sides to every story.

That’s the message a group of active scallop harvesters is hoping to make public after a court case involving their union and other scallop license holders concluded two weeks ago.

The case saw more than 70 license holders face off against the Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union to receive a lump-sum payout from funds negotiated between the union and Nalcor for loss of fishing grounds in the Strait of Belle Isle. Nalcor is using the area for an undersea cable.

Jarvis Walsh of Flower’s Cove, Gerald Genge of Anchor Point, Ted Gibbons of Forresters Point and Sidney and Boyd Mitchelmore from Green Island Cove were five of the harvesters affected by the deal with Nalcor, which cost them a 45-square-kilometre section of the area.

The five men hold licenses and are part of about a dozen active harvesters who fish from the area. The remaining license holders are not active harvesters.

A negotiation took place between the FFAW and Nalcor regarding the settlement. Nalcor was ordered to pay $2.6 million, with 15 per cent administrative costs to the FFAW.

The money was to be paid out annually to the active harvesters, as per the negotiations. But inactive license holders were not in favour of that decision and took the union to court for a lump sum instead.  They won, and all license holders will take about $33,000 in compensation.

Compensation is supposed to be for those who are losing out, said Walsh.

“Time after time, after time, after time Nalcor said they wouldn’t agree to a lump sum (payout),” said Sidney Mitchelmore.


Lost the fight

None of the five men see the case as being a personal loss. They each said it’s a loss to the whole industry.

The money would have been paid out to any active scallop fisherman. Anyone that had a boat and went out fishing would have received a percentage of the allocated funds over 30 years.

“We were willing to share the money with whoever wanted to take advantage of it,” Gibbons explained.

Walsh confirmed there were likely going to be relationships broken and friendships ruined over this decision. But he felt the only way to be fair was to share the money with those actively fishing since they’re the ones losing the area.

Gibbons backed him on that, saying the license holders were piggybacking off those who make a living in the industry.

“I’ll work for what I get,” he said. “I always did. If I don’t work for it, I don’t deserve it.”

Genge echoed the concerns, noting the idea of a large payout brought the inactive harvesters out of the woodwork.

The men have more than 150 years experience between them as scallop harvesters, experience they believe is more than all the 70-plus inactive license holders combined.

Any harvester with a license that went onto the ocean to fish scallops over the next 30 years would have been eligible for the funding. But now, the lump sum payout will prevent that from happening.

What happens with payout?

For Walsh, Gibbons, Mitchelmore, Genge and Mitchelmore, the lump sum is not $30,000 in their pockets. Each has at least one other crew member, and some have up to five.

“If you worked for me, and I got this money and didn’t share it with you, what would you do?” Walsh asked. “You’d go work for someone else.”

All the men agreed they would be sharing the payout with their crews, but were blunt when it came to the inactive license holders.

“They are just going to pocket the $30,000,” said Gibbons. “This is a rotten deal.”

Genge was disappointed that they have been accused of trying to take the money for themselves.

“We were willing to share if they got a boat and went fishing,” he said.

In the next 10 to 15 years, all five are likely to be retired from fishing and will not be reaping the benefits of annual payouts. But they were insistent it has been them and the few other active harvesters who have sustained the scallop fishery over the years, and they want to see the industry succeed and continue.

“Without the benefit (of annual payouts), who’s going to buy a license now?” asked Walsh.

For Genge, it was about weighing the potential end of the fishery against an easy payday.

“Short term gain, long term pain,” he said.

Although the court decision has been made, the five men don’t believe the fight is over yet.

“We didn’t expect the judge to have the decision he did,” said Walsh. “But I don’t believe it’s over.”