The FFAW-Unifor demonstration March 20 through downtown St. John’s was described to me as a “march of deception.”
I disagreed — no one’ s been deceived. The facts have been laid out for all to see over the two and a half years that FISH-NL has battled the FFAW.
Instead, I would call the protest a “march of madness.” FFAW supporters demonstrated to “fight for the future of our fisheries” when it’s the union itself that has been threatening their survival.
The FFAW-Unifor is in a conflict of interest in representing inshore harvesters/plant workers/offshore trawler men/aquaculture workers/oil tanker workers/cold storage workers/Long Harbour workers, etc.
The FFAW is also in conflict for taking in millions of dollars a year in contracts/grants from the same federal and provincial governments (mostly federal) whose policies the union is supposed to keep in check.
The conflicts continue: the FFAW controls quotas of fish including halibut, redfish, snow crab and cod; the union collects money from the oil and gas industry (and refuses to reveal the amount); the FFAW hires and trains workers on seismic boats, while also gathering data for DFO’s scientific studies on the impact of seismic blasting; the union has collected funds from the C-NLOPB, the industry regulator; and the union owns its headquarters on 368 Hamilton Ave. in St. John’s with the Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board that is supposed to be independent and arm’s-length.
The FFAW has refused to release detailed financial statements outlining all income and expenditures, including what happens with money from the controversial “shrimp fund” that inshore harvesters must pay into if they exceed their quotas.
The FFAW charges harvesters for halibut tags, “caplin dues,” and grading fees (on top of regular dues).
The FFAW continues to run sentinel (test) cod fisheries when their relevance has been questioned with the resumption of small-scale commercial fisheries. The FFAW also ran a questionable cod quality fishery this summer that continued even when the fishery closed to harvesters.
The FFAW acted surprised last fall when DFO announced its plan to introduce the Precautionary Approach management system in the snow crab fishery — even though the union had been involved in an industry “working group.” It’s unacceptable that the FFAW has accepted that the Precautionary Approach will be implemented in the snow crab fishery when members are against it.
The FFAW agreed to controversial amendments to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) in the mid-2000s that threaten Canada’s sovereignty inside the 200-mile limit. FFAW President Keith Sullivan (and Earle McCurdy before him) regularly attends NAFO meetings around the world, but fails to speak publicly about the organization’s absolute failure to protect migratory stocks.
The FFAW decides which harvesters take part in halibut surveys, charges them fees, and then orders them where to sell the fish.
The union failed to demand the principle of adjacency be included with amendments to the federal Fisheries Act so that harvesters are the primary beneficiaries of adjacent stocks. Former FFAW secretary-treasurer Reg Anstey was quietly appointed earlier this year to the Fish Processing Licensing Board, which would also make recommendations on outside buyers that the FFAW is against.
The FFAW — through the Groundfish Industry Development Council — developed the 2016/17 northern cod management plans, which included the introduction of weekly quotas, and harvesters were not consulted.
In March 2016, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled in favour of 76 scallop fishermen who took the FFAW to court over a compensation fund for lost fishing grounds.
Finally, it must be noted that inshore harvesters do not have the right to strike. They don’t have a pension plan, health or dental benefits, and no choice but to pay union dues.
It’s obvious the FFAW-Unifor is not fighting for the future of the fishery, so much as the future of the union itself.