Inshore harvesters of the Great Forgotten Peninsula are in trouble

Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL, gave the following speech on Sunday, July 23rd, in Hawke’s Bay on the Great Northern Peninsula. Many harvesters bowed out of the meeting, requesting to meet me before and after one-on-one, fearing repercussions from the FFAW-Unifor.

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“I’m here to warn you, the inshore fishermen of the Great Forgotten Peninsula, that you’re in trouble. Make no mistake, your livelihoods are in jeopardy if you don’t already know it, because you’re not a priority — not a priority with the FFAW-Unifor, and you’re not a priory with the federal and provincial governments. You have to make yourself a priority.”

— Ryan Cleary, President, FISH-NL 

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Good afternoon and thank you for coming out on a Sunday afternoon, but it’s important you be here.

My name is Ryan Cleary, and I’m president of FISH-NL, the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

I want to also point out Boyd Lavers of Port Saunders — Captain of FISH-NL’s over 40 foot fleet, whom you all know. 

Boyd and I talk on the phone all the time, but the last time I was with Boyd in person was back in May at a meeting in St. John’s with Premier Dwight Ball and Steve Crocker, the provincial Fisheries minister. 

It was myself, and Boyd, and Richard Gillett, Vice-President of FISH-NL, and Jason Sullivan, Captain of the under-40 foot fleet, the four of us 

We had the premier’s ear for an hour and a half. 

Things were pretty hot and heavy in the fishery at the time.

Richard Gillett had been on his hunger strike for almost two weeks, living in a Labrador tent outside DFO headquarters in St. John’s. 

In April, and in brutal weather.

Let me tell you that was no picnic. 

When the hunger strike ended some fishermen went to the FFAW office and were prepared to take that building apart brick by brick.  

They didn’t. They kept their cool — barely.  

There was the crab protest fishery off the Great Northern Peninsula, including a faceoff with the Canadian Coast Guard.

Harvesters were burning fishing gear around the province, starting in Port aux Choix. 

But then so much of the unrest in the fishery has begun here, on the Great Northern Peninsula. 

FISH-NL’s big issue at that meeting with the premier (even though it’s a federal decision) was buddying up — which we helped get in the end. 

Another issue was getting the Labour Relations Board to hold a vote so fishermen can decide which union they want to be members of  — FISH-NL or the FFAW.  

We’re still working on that one, plugging away at it every day. 

I’ll speak to that a little later.  

But each of us — me, Boyd Lavers, Richard Gillett, Jason Sullivan — had our own critical issues to push. 

But no one fought harder that day than Boyd Lavers.

He drove all the way from Port Saunders for the meeting. It wasn’t the first time he did that either.

No one paid his gas. Or hotel room. Or for his dozens of cups of coffee. He took time away from his business, his boat, and his family. 

Boyd’s issue that day was the fact that Newfoundland fishermen — fishermen in this room today — don’t have access to crab immediately off these shores.  

Quebec fishing boats have access to the fishing grounds directly off the Great Northern Peninsula, at the mouths of local harbours, while local boats have to steam 30 miles to grounds where there’s no crab. 

Boyd got up from his chair at the meeting, went over to the premier and showed him maps on where Quebec boats can fish crab, and where Newfoundland boats can fish crab. 

It was only two or three days before our meeting with the premier that nine boats from Port au Choix and Port Saunders held the protest crab fishery. 

Quebec fishermen are allowed to fish crab directly off these shores, but there’s no way that Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen would ever be allowed to fish off Quebec shores. 

Not a chance — that point was made loud and clear. 

Anyway, we had a good meeting with the premier and the minister, a good meeting in terms of getting it all out, laying it all on the table. 

The principles of adjacency (those living closest to the resource benefit the most from the resource), and historical attachment were overriding themes of the meeting. 

Inshore harvesters first — can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that in recent months.  

But where did we get with the crab issue, the issue of fishing zones between the Great Northern Peninsula and Quebec?

What came out of your protest and our meeting with the premier?

What changed? 

Nothing. 

We got no where on that issue. 

Boyd argued — we all did — and laid out a case the premier couldn’t disagree with, because they are the black-and-white facts. 

But it got us nowhere — not yet. 

It takes perseverance, it takes not giving up. 

More than that, it’s takes making a stand. 

That’s why I made it a point to come here today: if it hasn’t been clear before that inshore fishermen are under threat … 

If it hasn’t been clear before that inshore fishermen are not a priority — with either level of government, federal or provincial, or with the FFAW-Unifor … 

Well b’y — it should be clear now. 

I’m here to warn you — inshore harvesters of the Great Forgotten Peninsula — that you’re in trouble, your livelihoods are in jeopardy. 

Because you’re not a priority — not with the FFAW-Unifor, and not with the federal or provincial governments. 

You are going to have to make yourselves a priority. 

All fishermen and fisherwomen of Newfoundland and Labrador are going to have to make themselves the priority. 

Or you’re done.  

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you’re done. You’re slowly fading away. 

There were almost 13,000 fishermen in this province in the earlier 1990s, when the northern cod moratorium came down. 

As of 2016, there are 3,022 core licence holders, and many of those fishermen aren’t active on the water. 

From 13,000 to well under 3,000 active fishermen. 

And the average age on all coasts is probably 60 or close to it.  

A couple of weeks ago there was a press conference in Benoit’s Cove to announce a partnership between the Qalipu First Nation and the Barry Group.  

The Qalipu and Bill Barry are lobbying to get a redfish quota in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. 

How much fish exactly? We don’t know yet. 

But enough fish for Barry to say he plans to spend $20 million of his own money refurbishing two fish plants over the next two or three years. 

The plan is that the Qalipu will get royalties from the redfish quota, and Bill Barry will take care of the harvesting and processing. 

What are the chances the Qalipu and Barry will get the redfish?

Pretty good I’d say — it wasn’t just Bill Barry and the Qalipu at that press conference, but the premier, his Fisheries minister, area MHAs, and federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc. 

I’d say that’s a sure sign the Qalipu and Bill Barry are going to get the redfish.  

What struck me immediately about that press conference was that it was a slap in the face to inshore harvesters.  

There have been severe cuts to northern shrimp, and Gulf shrimp. God knows what will happen with caplin. 

Most all commercial stocks are at or near the critical level.  

Cod’s on the rebound, but it’s hard to make a go of it at an average price of 60 cents a pound. 

Ice conditions this year have been brutal. 

Inshore fishermen are facing bankruptcy.

Not many young people involved in the fishery, and it’s harder and harder to get crews. 

I’ve heard fishermen talking for months about how the redfish are exploding in the Gulf. 

Make no mistake, they saw that as a glimmer of hope, something to cling to. 

And who’s first in line for that redfish — not inshore fishermen, not you. 

That’s your wake up call. 

Inshore harvesters should be at the front of the line, and you’re not. 

Bill Barry, a fish processor, is at the front of the line. 

The Qalipu First Nation is at the front of the line. 

Inshore fishermen aren’t.  

I took that as a slap in the face — you should take that as a slap in the face — because the pain of quota cuts has been all over the news. It’s no secret that inshore harvesters are suffering. 

The fishery today is worse than the moratorium —enterprises are bigger, debts are huge, and there are no other species to move on to. 

Then, when there’s finally good news — hope — that a stock is on a massive rebound, inshore harvesters aren’t mentioned. 

Not a word. 

I don’t begrudge the Qalipu anything.

Some people in this room may be members of the Qalipu First Nation and you’re more than welcome.

But, as a group, our inshore harvesters must be first.

Our harvesters are the stewards of the sea. 

There’s a famous quote — “Who is going to look after the sea when the fishermen are gone?”

Bill Barry?

Dwight Ball or Steve Crocker?

Politicians come and go, so do businessmen. 

The inshore fishery is a generational industry, passed on from one generation to the next. 

Inshore harvesters and their enterprises are the economic engines of each and every rural community. 

You must be the priority for the good of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, for the good of the stocks. 

Inshore harvesters must be given first access — priority access — to all stocks off our shores.  

Forget the Qalipu and Bill Barry for a moment, who gets access to the redfish based on historical shares?

Let me lay it out for you, so it’s crystal clear. 

Gulf redfish has been under a moratorium since 1995. 

According to historical shares — and this information was provided directly from DFO — the inshore fleet only had access to almost 26 per cent of the redfish quota. 

That’s not just our inshore fleet, but the inshore fleet from the Maritimes, and Quebec. 

26 per cent of the quota. 

And Newfoundland and Labrador’s share was a fraction of that.  

The offshore sector, the factory-freezer trawlers, their historical share was  just over 74 per cent. 

 Those historical sharing arrangements must change. 

If the future shares of redfish are based on historical shares, the inshore harvesters of the Great Northern Peninsula will have to share 26 per cent of the quota with the Maritimes and Quebec.  

That won’t leave you with much. 

That won’t leave you with enough.  

 This is where FISH-NL comes in 

We fight for inshore fish harvesters. 

No conflict of interest with the Government of Canada.

We’re not bought and paid for by the oil and gas industry.

We’re not bought and paid for by anybody. 

No agendas other than the success and prosperity of inshore harvesters …

That’s it. 

There was a lot of news recently about the scallop decision in the Strait of Belle Isle. 

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled last year that the FFAW-Unifor had deceived its members — had deceived you — over the compensation package from Nalcor for the power lines across the Strait. 

The FFAW appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Court of Appeal, backed up the initial decision. 

It is absolutely unprecedented for a union to deceive its members the way the FFAW deceived you — and for it to be proven in a court of law. 

There’s been no apology. 

The FFAW has carried on its merry way.  

Nothing from the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour.

Nothing from national unions, nothing from local unions.  

For years, the FFAW has been accused of only calling a meeting to tell harvesters what’s already been decided. 

The judgement in the scallop case proves that. 

Lana Payne, the Atlantic Director of Unifor, was cornered last week on VOCM Open Line about the FFAW’s deception. 

When Payne was pushed, this is what she had to say: “No all the time do courts understand how democratic decisions happen.”

So the problem wasn’t with the Nalcor compensation package, or the fact that inshore harvesters were deceived. 

Harvesters were asked by the FFAW to give the union permission to negotiate a compensation package. 

When that compensation package had already been negotiated, and without their input. 

And the union paid itself almost $400,000 for its trouble.

And Lana Payne says courts don’t always understand how democratic decisions happen … 

I think the courts understand just fine. 

And I would never put democratic and the FFAW in the same sentence, not without another word — bullshit. 

FISH-NL called on FFAW president Keith Sullivan to apologize to his members, keeping in mind that it was Earle McCurdy who was head of the FFAW when the deception went down. 

FISH-NL called on Dave Decker to resign and for Jason Spingle to be fired.  

What happened — nothing. 

The FFAW hasn’t said much publicly about the Qalipu/Bill Barry deal.  

Is that pay back against inshore harvesters from the Great Northern Peninsula for the scallop court case, for taking the union to court? 

You can be the judge of that. 

It may be well into the fall before the Labour Relations Board decides whether to order a vote of inshore harvesters … 

From FISH-NL’s perspective, the Board has no choice but to order a vote. 

It’s been proven in court that the FFAW deceived its members — that alone should force a vote. 

There have been accusations that the FFAW is bought and paid for by the oil and gas industry. 

The union has barely uttered a word publicly for years about oil and gas exploration, seismic work, drilling, disperants, etc. 

Meantime, the FFAW won’t reveal how much money oil and gas companies pump into the union. 

There’s an issue off Newfoundland’s south coast right now with a Marine Protected Area the federal government wants to put in the Laurentian Channel,  

That Marine Protected Area would be the largest in Canada, and the third in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

There would be no fishing in the Marine Protected Area, but seismic and drilling are good to go. 

Oh, and the Marine Protected area is entirely within the Newfoundland fishing zone — not Nova Scotia’s and not the St. Pierre corridor. 

The feds plan to ban commercial fishing in the Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area, but oil and gas activity would still be allowed. 

How does that make sense?

I call that an insult to fishermen and a joke to scientists. 

It’s long been said that the problem with the fishery today is it’s missing common sense. 

And it is.  

FISH-NL is already operating as a union — I represent individual inshore harvesters every day in cases or disputes with DFO.  

When FISH-NL began last September at a news conference in Petty Harbour, I said that our challenge was monumental — David vs. Goliath. 

But that’s not exactly right — it’s David vs. Goliaths. 

The Goliaths being the FFAW, the federal and provincial governments, the offshore sector, oil companies, NAFO, etc.  

But every day FISH-NL inches forward. 

We’re already operating as a union — representing the cases of individual members. 

Any public supporters of FISH-NL are invisible to the FFAW. 

So we’re kept busy. 

To summarize, let me repeat — you’re livelihoods, your way of life,  is in jeopardy. 

There are lessons to be learned from the offshore sector, believe it or not.  

They have their act together — processing companies and offshore licence holders come together as one and fight as one.

And they’re good at it, they’re effective. 

Inshore harvesters must do the same. 

NAFO has its act together — fighting for every last fish inside and outside Canada’s 200-mile limit.  

NAFO has the ear of the Government of Canada, and it would seem the sympathy of the Government of Canada. 

It’s high time for the inshore harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador to get your act in gear. 

No conflicts of interest.

No hidden agendas. 

Inshore harvesters first. 

Period. End of story. 

Always. 

The power is in the hands of inshore harvesters, but you’ve got to seize that power. 

Inshore harvesters and their enterprises should play second fiddle to no one. 

Inshore harvesters should be have priority access to all fish off Newfoundland and Labrador shores. 

That message must be made clear and acknowledged by the entire industry, by both levels of government. 

But FISH-NL will only persevere if you stand behind us. 

First harvesters first. 

Thank you.