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FFAW rally in Clarenville highlights worry over 3Ps cod for fishers, Icewater employees


Union members talk of devastation for local economy if Ottawa shuts down fishery

CLARENVILLE, N.L. —

Thanks to the efforts of Icewater Seafoods to secure more markets for cod, the 225 workers at the company’s plant in Arnold’s Cove were looking forward to more steady employment in years ahead.

“Icewater acquired a new market in Europe recently and our members were looking forward to 30 to 40 weeks of employment for 2021 and years to come,” said Brenda King, the president of the FFAW union local at the plant.

Yet, as the days tick down to June and what should be the start of commercial cod fishery in zone 3Ps, optimism is being overshadowed by worry.

That’s why many of the plant workers, and several inshore fishers, showed up Wednesday for a rally in Clarenville, organized by the Fish Food and Allied Workers’ Union (FFAW-Unifor).

The rally, held in the parking lot of the office of Liberal MP Churence Rogers, was meant to send a message to politicians about the importance of the cod fishery, not only for the inshore fishers and plant workers but for the overall economy.

Earlier this month the FFAW, as well as members of the Atlantic Groundfish Council, decided to withdraw as advisers to the Canada-France bilateral negotiations as meetings were about to begin to determine quotas for fish stocks on the south coast.

Both groups say they were “blindsided” to learn that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) was heading into the meetings with a mandate for a moratorium on the commercial cod fishery in that zone.

The provincial government still has a seat at that table, but all matters discussed at those meetings are considered confidential.

To date, there has been no word on whether Canada and France have reached an agreement on fishing quotas in 3Ps.


FFAW president Keith Sullivan at the March 31 rally in Clarenville. Sullivan said the 3Ps stock is actually expected to grow, and there are good signs of young cod coming into the system. Part of the problem regarding the current scientific outlook on the south coast cod, he said, is DFO changed the model for assessment for this year, resulting in an entirely different outlook for the biomass. - Barb Dean-Simmons
FFAW president Keith Sullivan at the March 31 rally in Clarenville. Sullivan said the 3Ps stock is actually expected to grow, and there are good signs of young cod coming into the system. Part of the problem regarding the current scientific outlook on the south coast cod, he said, is DFO changed the model for assessment for this year, resulting in an entirely different outlook for the biomass. - Barb Dean-Simmons


Both countries must come to an agreement on quotas for shared fish stocks in that zone — the French hold fishing rights on the south coast in recognition of the French islands of St-Pierre-Miquelon in the region.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan has not made any announcements about south coast cod quotas.

That lack of information is amping up the worry among people who rely on cod.

In Arnold’s Cove, King said the closure of the 3Ps cod fishery would be very damaging to the plant workers.

“If there’s a closure of 3Ps we could be left with just 10 weeks of work for the whole year,” she said.

“That would mean thousands and thousands of dollars of income for our members who live in an area with a struggling economy.”

Ken Viscount has been fishing for over 30 years.

He owns an inshore enterprise and fishes out of Dunville, Placentia Bay, with his wife.

When he started fishing, cod was one of the main species for his enterprise.

Back then, he said, the overall quota for the zone was about 115,000 metric tonnes.

But since the moratorium in 1993 on that coast, quotas and catches have fluctuated and dropped.

Last year he had about 13,000 pounds of cod to catch, thanks to a DFO decision to cut quotas by about 55 per cent from 2019’s levels.

Even though Viscount, and other fishers, will do much better at crab this year thanks to a quota increase in 3Ps and a price of $5.73 per pound, they say they can’t pin all their hopes on a single species.

Cod adds diversity


Brian Careen, a fish harvester from Placentia Bay, points to offshore draggers and seals as being problems for the 3Ps cod. On draggers, he said,
Brian Careen, a fish harvester from Placentia Bay, points to offshore draggers and seals as being problems for the 3Ps cod. On draggers, he said,


FFAW vice-president Robert Keenan noted, in his address to the crowd, that while the crab fishery is positive for this year, no one can pin their futures it being the same way year after year.

There are always ups and downs, he said, and the cod fishery is important to ensure economic diversity for fishing enterprises.

There’s also the notion that it’s a lot harder to re-open a fishery once a moratorium is declared.

Besides, there’s still the dispute over the new model used by DFO scientists to determine the size of the cod biomass in 3PS, and a question around what’s causing natural mortality of the cod.

“How many communities are we going to sacrifice for the life of a seal? How many economic development opportunities are we going to sacrifice for the life of a seal? How much outmigration are we going to endure for the life of a seal? And how many excuses and bullshit do we have to endure for the price of inaction? You would swear by how this is treated that the seals actually have the right to a vote.” - Robert Keenan

Seals was the answer suggested for that last question at Wednesday’s rally.

Keenan, FFAW president Keith Sullivan and inshore harvesters Brian Careen and Corey Hepditch made it quite clear where they stood on that issue.

Sullivan said the grey seal population has grown to the extent that the cod stock in the Maritimes and Gulf zones is just about wiped out.

He said the seals are coming into the 3Ps zone, as well, and something has to be done to manage the predators.

Keenan added, “How many communities are we going to sacrifice for the life of a seal? How many economic development opportunities are we going to sacrifice for the life of a seal? How much outmigration are we going to endure for the life of a seal? And how many excuses and bullshit do we have to endure for the price of inaction? You would swear by how this is treated that the seals actually have the right to a vote.”

Liberal MPs Churence Rogers and Ken MacDonald also attended Wednesday’s rally, assuring they and the rest of the Liberal Atlantic caucus were sending a clear message to Ottawa and Jordan that they oppose any suggestion of a moratorium on 3Ps cod.

Rogers told SaltWire the fact that science used a different mathematical model to assess the biomass on the south coast begs the question of whether the science is accurate.

Provincial Fisheries Minister Elvis Loveless was also at the rally and heard Sullivan as he said, “Premier Andrew Furey has to go to the wall with us on this issue.”

“We usually work 30 to 40 weeks of the year,” said Hynes, “and if the 3Ps fishery closes it might mean only 10 weeks of work.”

Whether or not the words will prompt action from the province remains to be seen.

For now, all inshore fishers and plant workers can do is sit and wait.

While the fishers do have other things to fall back on for their income, the plant workers have no options.

Cynthia Lockyer and Judy Hynes have been working at Icewater for decades — 36 years for Lockyer and 42 years for Hynes.

Lockyer said a lot of people, entire families even, depend on the plant for nearly year-round work and a decent wage.

Currently, the rate of pay is about $17 per hour, said Lockyer, and wages like that are not easy to come by in retail or general labour jobs in this region.

“We usually work 30 to 40 weeks of the year,” said Hynes, “and if the 3Ps fishery closes it might mean only 10 weeks of work.”

“I’m a widower, so this is my only source of income,” Hynes added. “And we have a lot of families working there — husbands and wives — and a lot of people who are the only income for their household.”

Normally, said Lockyer, the plant operates three shifts.

Her hope is that 3Ps will open up and the work will be there in 2021 as it has been in previous years.

“I’m hoping we’ll have enough work to last us until December,” she said.

Right now that hinges on decisions made by negotiators for Canada and France, in confidential meetings, where cod appears to be the most contentious thing on the table.

For Cory Hepditch, who fishes out of Baine Harbour, the message from the rally was clear.

“Our message today to Minister Jordan is clear: Us fishermen want to make a decent living to support our families and our communities, and we want you to make the right decision and keep our cod in 3Ps.”

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