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Letter: ‘Salt-water mafia’ term coined for a reason

Published on March 18, 2017

I wish to reply to Russell Wangersky’s March 11th column (“FISH-NL goes cap in hand”) by stating for the record that the characterization of the FFAW as the “salt-water mafia” wasn’t my turn of phrase, but that of inshore harvesters.

Indeed, the phrase is so common by the water these days that I’m surprised the salt-water mafia hasn’t challenged harvesters for calling them the FFAW.

The way Wangersky sees it, by referring to the salt-water mafia as the FFAW (my apologies, can’t keep it straight), I’m actually “saying that the FFAW is an organized criminal enterprise” that’s been “implicated in everything from drug running to prostitution to murder.”

That’s not true. 

The word “mafia” is defined as a “closed group of people in a particular field (or body of water), having controlling influence,” which, to most harvesters’ line of thinking, sums up the FFAW. 

The salt-water mafia is a closed shop, with rare turnover at the executive level, zero outside oversight, and whose union role has mutated into manager. Look no further than the secret, FFAW-proposed, five-cent-a-pound lobster levy last year, which processors actually voted down.

The salt-water mafia is the opposite of transparent (shrimp slush fund, dockside monitoring, etc.), and the organization doesn’t consult or put harvesters first. For proof of that look to last year’s northern cod stewardship fishery and the rules that the union concocted on its own, and then kept from the membership. 

The salt-water mafia certainly doesn’t hold Ottawa to account for fisheries (mis)management, but then, “May I have some more please?” wouldn’t put the fear of cod in anyone. 

The irony of FFAW president Keith Sullivan accusing FISH-NL of incompetency for asking harvesters to chip in for the revolution, at the same time that the fisheries gasp at his feet, is lost on no one.

Like the expression “union boat,” and the close ties between the FFAW and the controversial crab quota caught by the fishing vessel Katrina Charlene, the phrase “salt-water mafia” resonates with harvesters because there’s truth to it.

Wangersky can’t see the ocean for the waves — the issue is not that harvesters are calling the FFAW names, but why they’re doing it. That’s the question local media have ignored, the elephant on the wharf. 

Wangersky singled out another of my turns of phrase, “The FFAW is a conflict of interest wrapped in a mystery inside a huge puzzle with pieces missing, the missing pieces being fish.”

When I first said those words last September at FISH-NL’s initial news conference in Petty Harbour, I immediately apologized to Winston Churchill for fiddling with his description of Russia as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

But most people see the fishery as too intimidating to save. 

Wangersky misses the boat entirely when he writes that the “salt-and-pepper revolution” has to do with “knitted salt-and-pepper hats,” when, in fact, the phrase reflects the hair colour of most of the aging men and women left in the industry.

The odds have always been stacked against FISH-NL, and acknowledged from the get-go, but the movement grows steadily all the same as harvesters rally to save themselves and way of life. 

Call it what you will, but the fishery is at death’s door, and harvesters are revolting against a union that stopped fighting for them ages ago.