THE LAST FISH SUPPER

Northern cod is in trouble again, and fingers of blame point in many directions, but the bull’s-eye is on the FFAW-Unifor's head. It was the union (secretary-treasurer Dave Decker specifically), along with west coast businessman/Fish Lord Bill Barry, that came up with the idea of/created the NL Groundfish Industry Development Council (GIDC).

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It was the GIDC that devised the 2016/2017 northern cod management plans, with ZERO input from inshore harvesters and the financial blessing of the federal/provincial governments, who gave $20,000 each to cover start-up costs.

And it was Jim Baird, the 35-year veteran of DFO mismanagement who was picked to chair the GIDC, which was seen as a way the resolve the “acrimony and mistrust” between the major players in the NL groundfish industry.

Indeed, while Decker and Barry have reportedly become the best of buddies, inshore harvesters suffer for it …

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In May 2016, the GIDC proposed a management plan for a northern cod stewardship fishery, with DFO granting its approval in August of that year. But the plan only became public three months later when FISH-NL got our hands on it during a meeting on Fogo Island.


The stewardship plan was the most important document involving northern cod since the 1992 moratorium and not only were fish harvesters NOT consulted — the final plan was kept secret from them.
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The one-year stewardship cod fishery plan for 2016 set the northern cod quota at roughly 15,500 tonnes, including a commercial catch of 12,600 tonnes and up to 3,500 tonnes for the food fishery.

The management plan eliminated individual quotas in favour of weekly limits, with ZERO input from harvesters anywhere.

When FISH-NL released the document, I made sure to point out the papers revealed the 2015 northern cod spawning biomass (mature fish of reproductive age) was below the 1992 level that resulted in the commercial cod-fishing moratorium, and called on the FFAW/Unifor to explain the numbers.

Keith Sullivan, President of the FFAW-Unifor, immediately twisted that. “Cleary reiterates offshore corporations’ arguments against inshore cod fishery”, read the headline of the FFAW press release.

“Cleary’s comments again demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the fishery,” Sullivan said at the time. “This is the exact argument the corporate offshore sector is using in an attempt to push inshore harvesters out of the fishery and get a bigger share of the pie for themselves.”


I’m still not sure what pie Sullivan was talking about ...

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According to the March 2016 Agreement in Principle that led the GIDC’s formation, two of its “Principles” were to be adjacency and historical attachment.

“Priority of access to NL ground fish stocks will be based on the principles of adjacency and historical attachment to ensure that the benefits from these resources flow to the owner-operator fleet, onshore processing plants and rural communities that are adjacency to the resource.”

Still, the GIDC did NOT raise any objections when the federal administration of Justin Trudeau failed to include adjacency/historical attachment in proposed amendments to the federal Fisheries Act.

While ACOA contributed at least $20,000 to the GIDC, FISH-NL is trying to determine exactly how much federal money has been pumped into the organization to date. 

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According to the GIDC’s 2016 Agreement in Principle:

The fishery continues to face a number of significant challenges including:

  • A high degree of seasonality — in 2014, 90% of vessel landings occurred in the 19 week period between May 1 and Labour Day; and there were virtually no fishing activity (i.e. less than 5 per cent of vessel landings) in the 27 week period between Oct. 1 and March 31st. 
  • Low incomes for the majority of fish harvesters and plant workers — the average crew member earned approximately $29,000 in 2013, whereas the income from the average plant worker was likely less than $15,000.
  • An aging fish harvester and plant worker labour force — the age of the average core enterprise owner, for example, now stands at 55; and 35 per cent of enterprise owners have either reached the retirement age of 65 or will reach retirement age within 15 years.
  • Difficulties in recruiting labour particularly to the processing sector, but also to the harvesting sector in recent years. 
  • Dramatic increases in the costs of acquiring a fishing enterprise, which have in turn resulted in difficulties in recruiting the next generation of enterprise owners — less than 10 per cent of current enterprise owners entered the industry in the post-moratorium period; and there are currently twice as many owners over age 65 as there are under age 40.
  • Significant over capacity and capital investment in both the harvesting and processing sectors of the industry.