This letter is in response to Gabe Gregory’s May 4 letter, Fish union’s delay tactics appalling.
Contrary to Gregory’s assertions, fish-processing companies are not operating during the COVID-19 crisis under some noble sense of duty to the province or nation and they are certainly not sacrificing for the greater good.
Fish processing companies are doing what they’ve always done — trying to maximize profit and impose greater control over the inshore fishery in this province.
Being labelled an essential service was a relief to processing companies. It meant they could operate and bypass social-distancing, crowd-size and travel restrictions.
It meant that the companies could take full advantage of the very lucrative snow crab fishery ($500 million in 2019) and lobster fisheries ($100+ million in 2019) that would be starting while the COVID-19 pandemic would still be highly active in our country. Being an essential service also allowed them to be amongst the first in line for government subsidies.
In my years of being around the table with the heads of the major processing companies, I have never seen them look more anxious to get started. It was repeated over and over that “there’s a market to fill” and let’s be the first into that market. This was dollars and cents-driven thought clouding the realities of a pandemic.
When the inshore fishery starts in April of every year, the largest megaproject in this province comes to life. Tens of thousands of people start work over the course of a few short weeks. People drive hundreds of miles to get to wharves and fish plants; they carpool; and they shop for supplies and groceries. When they go to work, they enter a space, be it a vessel or fish plant, where social distancing is impossible. These thousands of people proudly work in these spaces for hours or days in order to earn a modest living. They work with their neighbours and family members and have done so for generations.
It is a scene that has played out for hundreds of years and it makes rural Newfoundland and Labrador wonderful.
Now, imagine that two people amongst these tens of thousands had COVID-19. Imagine how quick that would have spread in a fish plant or on a vessel. It would then have likely spread through the wharf, and back to peoples’ homes and quickly throughout an entire region.
This would have been catastrophic. One only has to look at the devastation COVID-19 has had in other processing plants throughout North America.
This was the scenario on the minds of harvesters and plant workers when fish processing companies started to push to have the fishery open as soon as possible in April.
This was grossly irresponsible given the state of our province at the time. It also showed that processing companies were not going to live up to any social responsibility attached to being an essential service.
FFAW last asked for a delay in the fishery on April 24. At that time, we had not flattened the curve in this province, though we seemed to be on our way. Our request to delay the start of the snow crab fishery until May 11 will allow for the biggest fishery in this province to start under the safest possible circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic. The risk of infection is now quite low in this province.
That was not the case in April.
Gregory equates COVID-19 to wartime, but he is not going to be on the frontline, risking infection to process crab for Ocean Choice International or his own employer Royal Greenland, a crown corporation from Denmark. Gregory is a chicken-hawk, a champion for others to take the risk during wartime.
Now is not the time for chicken-hawks.
Now is the time for compassion, patience and empathy and to act knowing we are in this together.