With FISH-NL/FFAW 'spat' over, time for media to take deep dive into fishermen concerns

An edited version of the following letter to the editor is published in today’s Telegram.

Dear editor,

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Near the end of FISH-NL’s three-year battle with the FFAW-Unifor, a senior reporter with the local CBC took exception on Twitter to being tagged to a particular clash between the two unions, and asked to be left out of the “spat.”

The fact the respected journalist (one-time host of the CBC’s Fisheries Broadcast) so easily dismissed so much long-standing labour unrest in the fishery as a petty tiff was an insult to the thousands of fishermen/women who signed FISH-NL cards.

To me, too — it was like saying I was only in it for a job. (If only that were enough.)

Now that the spat’s behind us, there’s no excuse for the media not to take a deep dive into the concerns raised by inshore harvesters over their union representation.

They could start with the conflicts of interests between the FFAW and Ottawa, the FFAW and oil companies, and the FFAW and its own members. What are the consequences of being funded by so many masters?

The media could start an investigation in the mid-1990s, when a crab quota (later to be fished by the “union boat”), was awarded to a company with super tight ties to the FFAW. (I have the documents if anyone’s interested.)

If the CBC alone directed as much attention at the problems plaguing the wild fisheries as it has the massive die off of farmed Atlantic salmon, the industry would be miles ahead.

But there’s an even more urgent reason for the media to investigate issues raised by inshore harvesters — nobody else will.

There are no labour police in Newfoundland and Labrador, or Canada — no third-party to oversee a union’s ethical and moral responsibility to its membership.

There is the court system — which helped scallop fishermen in The Straits a few years ago nail the FFAW to the wall over millions of dollars in compensation from Nalcor for the Muskrat Falls power line — but that route isn’t for everyone or every issue.

How many entire industries in Canada or around the world are represented by a union monopoly? None that I know of — other than the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery — and in the absence of labour competition there must be outside oversight. Too many inshore harvesters have said they may sell out now that FISH-NL is out of the picture. They fear the FFAW will make them pay, which can happen when a union controls so many of the shots.

When the province’s Labour Relations Board dismissed FISH-NL’s application for certification in 2018, they left almost 2,400 inshore harvesters who had signed cards out in the cold.

They weren’t offered support, no one reached out to them, and the reasons for their unrest were never independently explored or addressed, which is part of the reason why FISH-NL soldiered on.

Even more fishermen signed FISH-NL cards this time around — that’s more people than the populations of Twillingate, or Fogo Island, or St. Anthony, or Grand Bank.

Between the Dwight Ball government and the province’s Federation of Labour, a way must be found to reach out to inshore harvesters, to address the rot that’s taken hold of the House of Labour, and to save the cultural industry that made us.

Ryan Cleary,

Former President, FISH-NL