I am a fisherman’s daughter who is very aware of the beauty and the dangers of the ocean.
Fishing isn’t for everyone — it is a physical, dangerous, high risk profession in which generations of fishers have gone out on the water and, all too often, not come home.
The fishery is one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s many highly dependent resource sectors employing thousands of people directly and indirectly. This year, the obstacles facing this sector are beyond what any industry should have to deal with on their own.
Since mid-March, fish harvesters were deeply concerned about the potential impact of COVID-19.
Safety was and continues to be top priority as it is impossible to social distance while working in a fishing boat. However, the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) aggressively pushed for the opening of the fishery, despite serious concerns from fish harvesters and plant workers.
N.L. had not flattened the curve at this point and the FFAW requested all out-of-province vessels be prohibited from landing their catches in our province.
But, within no time, at the invitation of the ASP, out-of-province vessels were docking their boats in N.L. while tractor trailers trucked in crab.
Is this an example of fish processors in this province trying to control the inshore fishery while maximizing their profits? Where were our provincial and federal leaders during this time? Their absence has been very noticeable. Especially jarring, was the silence of our own area MHA, Sherry Gambin-Walsh, Placentia-St. Mary’s.
In the meantime, ASP refused to negotiate a reasonable price for the product, offering one penny while paying $3/pound plus bonuses to Maritime fishermen. What an insult to our fish harvesters who risk their lives every time they go on the water — a total slap in the face.
Mr. Derek Butler, Executive Director, ASP stated in the media this was a “normal negotiation technicality,” misrepresenting how negotiations have gone in the past. Every year when negotiations start, the first round is always “out to lunch,” however, not as drastic as a penny.
In 2017, for example, negotiations started at $3.65 and again in 2018, during the first round of negotiations ASP offered $3.98 while the FFAW went to the table with $5.58 ($1.60 apart) and settled with $4.55.
At the same time, boats from the Magdalen Islands were landing in Port aux Basques, including Captain Robin Jomphe of the Theodore V, with 8,000 pounds of crab — claiming “Newfoundlanders offer a price of $4/pound while the Quebec mills offer only $3/pound” (Journalist, Helene Fauteux/Magdalen Islands).
ASP showed total disrespect to the fish harvesters of N.L. at a time of uncertainty and anxiety.
As time passed and the curve was flattening, fish harvesters were getting antsy, but they now had to face a reduction in their trip (catch) limits put into place by ASP.
ASP imposed a 1,500-pound trip limit, now upped to 3,000 pounds (at the time of writing), every two weeks for small boats, placing significant financial strain on these enterprises.
So, it was very confusing to hear Mr. Martin Sullivan (CEO, OCI) state on Global National on May 10, 2020 that, “Our retail customers this year want a significant increase in all orders. So, all of the orders we lost in the food service, we more than picked up in retail. And we actually have more orders than we have product for this season.”
Once again, is this ASP trying to control the fishing industry? It appears ASP is using this global pandemic to undermine the collective bargaining process with FFAW members. This is not the time to take advantage of a bad situation.
The COVID-19 crisis has created unprecedented challenges for individuals and society as a whole. Fish harvesters are simply trying to safely get through this pandemic while protecting their industry for the future.
Government representatives need to implement some protection for our fish harvesters and do it quickly — their lack of support in these difficult times is putting our fish harvesters in economic jeopardy.
Fish harvesters are not looking for anything special, just a comprehensive compensation package to survive ongoing economic uncertainty while they shoulder the high-risk work that is inherent in their industry.
St. Brides, N.L.
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