Investigation requested into how FFAW-Unifor conducts meetings

Union accused of manipulation/pushing its own agenda

“The FFAW must clean up its act and implement better meeting practices before they can advise anyone on fishery management issues. The union must deal with the real issues instead of made-up ones that push the agendas of a few.”



On Feb. 11th, Della Way, daughter of inshore harvesters Sarah and Wade Mitchelmore of Green Island Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula, send the following letter to Laurie Hawkins of DFO resource management in NL, with copies forwarded to the premier and other provincial leaders.

Dear Ms, Hawkins,

I have concerns that I feel you need to be made aware of as you are ultimately one of the province’s chief decision makers. I am the daughter of inshore harvesters Sarah and Wade Mitchelmore of Green Island Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula, and write on their behalf as I hope to one day take over their fishing enterprise.

My parents fish out of Lobster Fishing Area 14B, and have had numerous issues with the practices of the FFAW-Unifor in recent years, and I feel these poor practices need to be brought to your attention. Last week, inshore harvesters voted in favour of imposing a new regulation in the local lobster fishery — harvesters will no longer be able to set single pots, which my parents had been doing. Instead, they will have to fish in strings of five.

I want to provide you with information on the actions of the FFAW-Unifor that eventually led to the vote — actions that reveal the union is not looking out for the best interests of its members.

The FFAW is the organization harvesters depend on to ensure the best policies are implemented for resource sustainability and environmental protection, but the union only pushes the agenda of a select few harvesters.

The FFAW held a meeting in Plum Point on Jan 14th to discuss the use of single lobster pots. The union indicated that concerns had been brought to its attention with respect to the use of single pots.

Union officials led the harvesters in attendance to believe that the issue with single pots has to do with the amount of buoy line in the water, and how it could have a negative impact on the environment and marine mammals.

In fact, the real issue that had been brought forward by a select few harvesters in the area of Bard’d Habour was the high catch rates experienced by my parents who set single lobster pots.

Some fishermen were upset that my parents were catching more lobster than them. The few people who fish these single pots, including my parents, will tell you it’s the pot itself that increases catch rates — not the use of a single pot. The use of older, heavier pots in a string will lead to more loss of gear and tangles with marine mammals.

Harvesters need to be educated on these matters before they can make sound decisions, but the FFAW did not present any information at the Jan. 14th meeting with its members. The union had an agenda going into the meeting, and they pushed for a vote — after advertising that no vote would occur at the meeting. The FFAW would not listen to harvesters when they presented suggestions about what they wanted printed on a ballot. Many in the room suggested that the ballot say “remain as is” vs “single pot usage.”

The union went out of its way to confuse its members by sending out a biased ballot. Many harvesters left the Plum Point meeting thinking they would have to fish single pots if they voted for the use of single pots.

I also question whether the FFAW misled DFO.

Fishery management decisions should be made based on scientific evidence to ensure sustainability — not jealousy.

The FFAW-Unifor knew this wasn’t the best way to approach the issue, so they fabricated the idea that increased buoy line would pose a greater environmental issue. The union did not provide any scientific evidence to the harvesters to back that up, but they pushed forward on their own agenda to get a vote.

The FFAW manipulated the information so as to confuse members, and get the vote result they desired. The job of the FFAW-Unifor is to provide assistance and advice to harvesters on the best fishing practices to maintain industry stability, and environmental protection. The union went to the Plum Point meeting ill prepared to educate harvesters on any issues.

How can harvesters be expected to make sound decisions when they aren’t provided with the necessary information?

Instead, they were called to a meeting so that an agenda (to call a vote) could be pushed down their throats.

I questioned FFAW staffer Jason Spingle on the union arrived at the 5-pot minimum, with a maximum distance of 15 fathoms apart. He suggested the harvesters came up with the regulation.

However, he told me no vote occurred on the matter. So how could one be sure that this was what the membership wanted? Why rush such a decision to be made on this matter or any other matter.

I request that the federal and provincial governments launch an investigation into how the FFAW-Unifor conducts its meetings. The union should be using Robert’s Rules of Order, but doesn’t.

The union could and would not provide me with any minutes from such a valuable meeting, and would not respond to any of my concerns that I requested in writing.

Also, pushing for a vote to be held in such a short time frame did not allow harvesters who had been using single pots to prepare for the 2019 season in terms of ensuring they have the appropriate gear and other equipment.

This is a pilot project that is going to cause some harvesters undo financial hardships in such a short time frame. We raised these points with the union, but they could not respond to our concerns.

Another issue is that the FFAW-Unifor did not share information about the Jan. 14th meeting with all harvesters. In this particular case they advertised the meeting to members via a Facebook announcement, even though many harvesters are age 55 plus and the majority are not computer literate.

I do not feel that this is a proper means of advertising such important meetings. I feel more harvesters would have attended if more adequate means of notification were used. The union felt that roughly 60 harvesters out of 170-plus members represented good representation, but the regulation affected my parents specifically, and they weren’t even notified. The FFAW only wanted a select group at the meeting so they could push their agenda to have a vote.

In the past, the FFAW-Unifor has implemented changes regarding the opening of the lump and scallop fisheries in the area behind closed doors with little regard on the impact to harvesters.

This type of practice must change. All harvesters must be involved and educated so as to make informed decisions.

The FFAW must clean up its act and implement better meeting practices before they can advise anyone on fishery management issues. The union must deal with the real issues instead of made-up ones that push the agendas of a few.

I am hoping that you take this into your consideration before making changes that could so negatively impact lobsters harvesters in area 14B who need to revamp gear to meet the pilot guidelines that the union pushed down their throats.


Della Way