Reg MacDonald says something has to give in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery and he supports efforts to change how harvesters are represented.
That effort is currently being spearheaded by Ryan Cleary, who is trying to upend the province’s longstanding fisheries union, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW). The intention is to replace the FFAW with a new union called the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL).
MacDonald, who fishes out of Irishtown-Summerside in the Bay of Islands, says it is time for harvesters to get away from the FFAW.
“It can’t get no worse,” he said of the prospect of a change in union leadership.
MacDonald says the FFAW has been taking too much from inshore fish harvesters, particularly western Newfoundland harvesters like him, and no longer has the support of its membership. He alleged quotas are being taken from the region and given to harvesters in other parts of the island and the union takes too big a bite out of harvesters pursuing the fishery.
The FFAW, according to MacDonald, has played a role in the downturn in the fishery through the years.
These days, he said, decisions are being made based on meetings hardly anyone attends anymore.
“Nobody would go (to FFAW meetings) because they know it’s all lies,” MacDonald said. “Then they would change stuff and say we all voted for it, which we never. There’s no trust there.”
The latest development in Cleary’s effort to get FISH-NL off the ground is a spat over numbers. Nearly 2,400 inshore harvesters signed the application to form the new union, but the FFAW says that is nowhere near the requirement of half of the roughly 10,000 members the FFAW claims to have.
“If the FFAW got them numbers, they got them from the plants and must have given them all licences,” said MacDonald, insisting the FISH-NL numbers only include licensed harvesters and not the unionized fish plant workers.
It will be a tough slog, but MacDonald is confident the FFAW can be and will be eventually overtaken.
“It will work, one way or the other,” he said. “They aren’t stealing from us anymore — not here on the west coast anyway.”