Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Surviving a social media avalanche: 'The online audience (especially Twitter) can be lightning quick to judge, instantaneous to condemn, and merciless in sentencing'

I posted the following to Facebook on Sunday, Jan. 28th, in response to a controversial post two days previous. 

Good day NL, all ships at sea, and Southern Shore fisherman Keith Hawkins, who’s been brutalized on social media in recent days, a pounding he didn’t expect nor deserve. 

I have apologized to Keith personally — what happened is my fault — an apology he’s been good enough to accept, but it’s important to provide clarity on why I’m sorry.
This past Thursday morning (Jan. 25th), officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) held a meeting in Ferryland for local inshore harvesters. 

It was the 16th in a series of 20 meetings DFO has organized around the province to hear directly from harvesters, which hasn’t happened in a generation.

Indeed, during the Ferryland meeting an older fisherman made it a point to say he’s been fishing since 1973 (45 years), and it was the first time DFO has held direct, face-to-face consultation. 

The feds have left that to the FFAW-Unifor, but many harvesters have complained the union no longer speaks for them. 

DFO was more or less shamed into holding consultations.

More than 50 harvesters showed up in Ferryland (one of the better turnouts), including Keith, who I knew would have much to say. 

He spoke first, with purpose and passion.
As President of FISH-NL, I had met with Keith last year about the Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board (PFHCB), an arm of the FFAW/Unifor that acts as gatekeeper into the NL fishery. 

Keith has had a problem with the certification board from the get-go, and the fact it wasn’t voted into being by harvesters, so much as quietly thrust upon them. 

The fact is you've got to practically starve yourself for five years to become a struggling fisherman/woman. 

To qualify for a core enterprise, a harvester must first work for five years as a full-time crewman (making $10,000-15,000 a year in the small-boat fleet), and if you hold a full-time job outside the fishery you’re immediately disqualified. 

Of all the complaints I deal with, the PFHCB — or the difficulty in becoming a harvester — tops the list. 

I tell people straight up there’s nothing I can do for them.

Earlier this month I referred one young man to the CBC’s Fisheries Broadcast, which aired his story. 
The PFHCB bills itself as “independent and arm’s length,” but the reality is the certification board is a part of the FFAW-Unifor — most of the board of directors are union executive. 

In fact, the union and the PFHCB jointly own the Richard Cashin building they’re both housed in, which I pointed out at the Ferryland meeting after the DFO chair spoke about “conspiracy theories.”
Keith said most harvesters are closer to retirement than starting out, and most crews are retirees who fish to supplement their pensions. 

“I feel like a Jew at a Nazi convention,” Keith said, going on to say the PFHCB was “set up to eliminate us,” and should be scrapped.

After the meeting, I wrote an overview of what was said/the sentiments expressed that I posted on Facebook, as I’ve done with the other meetings, so that harvesters know what’s being said on all coasts.

Only I got the quote wrong. 

I wrote it down correctly in my notebook, but made a mistake when I typed it out for the Facebook post.

“I feel like a Jew at a Nazi concentration camp,” I wrote. 

Again — my mistake. 
The complaints began soon after the quote was posted, a backlash that led FISH-NL to remove it. 

The next morning I spoke on VOCM’s Open Line, with follow-up interviews on NTV and CBC. 

I told the media that nothing is comparable to the Holocaust, and the murder of 6 million people.


That’s not what Keith meant, and that’s not what I (or anyone else at the Ferryland meeting, as far as I could see) took him to mean.

As a former journalist, I should have foreseen a backlash, but didn’t. 

As an MP, I’ve been to Israel’s Holocaust museum, and stood at the top of Masada and felt its meaning to the Jewish people.

Keith, as he would say in a later interview, toured Poland’s Auschwitz concentration camp a few years ago. 

We both understood the two are not comparable. 

The point of his overall comments remains the core message: Keith, and many harvesters like him, believe there is an agenda to “eliminate” NL’s inshore fishery, and much of rural NL with it.

Keith was talking about cultural genocide, not a literal one.

I, and others, thought that was obvious.
Personally, I have been at the brutal end of a social media backlash, and I can say with authority it’s not only crushing on you personally, but your partner/children/parents/family/friends/community.

The Twitter/Facebook messages are there for all to see. 

I have not read most of them. I knew from past experience to disconnect once the avalanche began, to protect myself from the personal blows. 

Keith, a fisherman for all his life who only recently learned his way around a computer/Facebook so he could learn what was happening in the fishery, felt the full brutal force of the social media pile up.

The online audience (especially Twitter) can be lightning quick to judge, instantaneous to condemn, and merciless in sentencing. 

I feel horrible that Keith had to experience that though my error. 

For that reason I cannot apologize enough. 
FISH-NL and its members believe the inshore fishery and our fishing culture are under threat, and we’re doing our best to point it out and find solutions. 

Onwards and upwards.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The story of Samantha Walsh

Samantha Walsh, a 13-year-old, Grade 8 student from Fleur de Lys on the Baie Verte Peninsula, disappeared one Sunday evening when walking home from her Grandmother's house, and I traveled to the community to research her story. The following feature article was published in The Telegram in February 2000.
"Sam, who had stripped off her ski pants when she got to her grandmother’s house, didn’t bother to put them on for the three-minute walk to her house. She went home wearing her coat and hat and long johns covered by flannel pajama pants, pink with black and white lambs, bought the day before at Value Village. But Sam never made it home. 'Loves you, Mom,' were her last words to her mother."
Samantha’s story
By Ryan Cleary, The Telegram
FLEUR DE LYS — The voice is that of a child, rising with a soft and sweet delivery from a room of living hell.
It’s a haunting sound, the words of Salt Water Joys, sung by a very talented and pretty little girl, Samantha Bertha Walsh, when she was 10 years old. And alive.
The song, Sam’s favourite, plays on a tape, The Children of Fleur de Lys, that her father made in 1996 for the town’s come-home year.
George and Millie, Sam’s parents, listen to the music in their living room. Pine walls and ceiling absorb Sam’s song.
“I was born down by the water and it’s here I’m going to stay
I’ve searched for all the reasons why I should go away’’
Sam’s gone now. Her body was found early Thursday morning in the woods west of town.
George and Millie actually talked about finding a body — not Sam, but a body — for more than a week.
They spoke of the body on Monday night when Sam’s taped voice filled the house. And, once again, the pain, always near the surface, erupts.
Millie leaves her rocking chair near the fire, carried off by an agony only parents can imagine and only parents who’ve actually lost a child could ever truly grasp.
George clutches his coffee mug with both hands close to his face just below his eyes, as if to catch the tears before they’re lost.
It’s been more than two weeks now since Sam, George’s precious Sammy B., vanished.
At first, there was hope that Sam had run away from home. At least then she’d be alive.
But George and Millie say they were fooling themselves, Sam would never up and leave. She was a happy child who loved salt fish for breakfast and her father who took the bones away.
“I’ll pay you if you can find a bone in that,’’ George would say as he passed Sam her plate.
She liked to ride on her orange Ski-Doo she and a friend called the “funk mobile.’’
In summer, Sam rowed the yellow rodney her uncle made for her around the harbour that the windows of her home watch over. Sam was a sharer who would never see another child do without. Her closet isn’t near full, with much of her clothes hanging in the homes of the friends she loaned them to.
Millie always made sure she told her daughter she loved her before leaving for work. And Sam always said it back. “Loves you, too, Mom.’’
The love will always be there. Not Sam.
There have been tragedies here before, deaths by drowning and fire and car crash and one’s own hand. But little girls are supposed to be safe here, in a town where hand-painted street signs warn motorists to “Drive slow, Let ‘em grow.’’
The safe harbour that is outport Newfoundland has been violated. And the Baie Verte Peninsula, like every other nook and cranny of the province, cries out in distress over the loss of Sammy B.
Most windows in Fleur de Lys are naked.
It’s not that people here are against curtains, they just love sunlight. And in a small fishing town like this where every soul knows the habits and history of most every other soul, there’s little to hide.
Front windows shine yellow and inviting against a frigid February night, a night when footsteps crunch on a white crust that is the main road. Voices of pedestrians carry in the still air so that they’re heard long before their faces come into view.
They file into St. Theresa’s Church, an old wooden building with settled, slanted floors that tilt the pews towards the centre aisle.
The night is Sunday, Feb. 20, and Father Ed Brophy says the mass.
“These are difficult times,’’ he tells his flock, a congregation that is missing one member. Samantha Walsh, a 13-year-old Grade 8 student, had been missing for two weeks at that point and residents were out of their minds with worry and frustration and fear.
“We must pray Sammy is safe in God’s care,’’ says Brophy. “Thy will be done.’’ Sam is in God’s hands. Her body was found early Thursday in the woods west of town and a 16-year-old boy who grew up just down the road from her home has been charged with second-degree murder. The pieces of the puzzle that was Sam’s disappearance are coming together.
The grieving, too, has begun.
There are memories to temper the pain, the unimaginable hurt.
Sam was born a Newfoundlander, her father, George, made sure of that. In 1986, when Sam’s mother, Millie, was nine months pregnant the family was living in Fort McMurray, Alta.
George piled himself, Millie and Sam’s older brother, Sandy, into their small Nissan truck and headed for home. “I wanted Sam to be a Newfoundlander,’’ says George.
They arrived in Fleur de Lys on May 19, 1986. Eight days later, Samantha Bertha Walsh was born. “If Sam had’ve come on the way down to Newfoundland I wouldn’t have told anyone,’’ says George, 54, the manager of a plant that produces seal oil in nearby Baie Verte.
Sam was a beautiful baby girl, remembers Millie, 40, a primary school teacher. Sam was raised in Fleur de Lys (flower of the lily) on the Baie Verte Peninsula. It’s a nice place to raise children, by the sea, in the town where her parents were raised, among her own people.
George and Millie built a fine home on a bluff above the harbour. George recalls the day he paid for the lumber. He went to talk to the sawmill operator, leaving Sam and the envelope of cash on the front seat of his truck.
When George returned for the money it was gone. Sam, who was about two years old at the time, had opened the envelope and thrown the bills out the window to float with the wind.
That’s a precious memory: Sam when she was little. George and Millie say it helps to talk about their daughter and the memories. They say it’s better than being alone and thinking about how Sam died.
“Cold,’’ says Millie, “I get so worried that Sam, wherever she is, may be cold. It’s your flesh and blood that you can’t be close to.’’
But Sam’s story is a good one, she says, “a very nice story, a friendly story.’’ George and Millie remember smiles and laughter and goodness and kisses and love, a familiar word in the Walsh home.
Sam, her parents say, was an average student who loved sports, particularly soccer, and whose passion in life was music.
Just last year, when she was in Grade 7, Sam wrote that her ambition was to be a singer while her probable career would be law.
There’s a new stereo in Sam’s bedroom that she got for Christmas with an Eric Clapton CD still in the player. Above her dresser there’s an autographed poster of The Fables, a traditional Newfoundland group.
Sam’s taste in music varied. Millie says that when Sam sang along with Celine Dion to the superstar’s hit song, My Heart Will Go On, she couldn’t tell who was singing, Sam or Celine.
“Sam had a great ear for music,’’ her mother says. Sam took piano lessons for a while but decided to give them up. Millie says she never pushed Sam, deciding to let her daughter find her own way.
Sam was a teenager but wasn’t into makeup. She loved clothes but wasn’t vain. “Sam didn’t mind hauling on a pair of rubber boots,’’ her father says. She liked teddy bears and Leonardo DiCaprio and Beanie Babies and valentines. There are a pile of them from last year wrapped in a red ribbon in her bottom drawer.
Sam missed Valentine’s Day this year.
Her mother won’t read the letters or notes in Sam’s bureau. Sam still has her privacy.
When Sam arrived home every day from school she threw her coat on the floor, her bookbag in her room (where it lies still) and turned up the stereo. She had friends and a best friend, Davina Alyward.
“Best friend,’’ in fact, is engraved on the pendant Davina wears on her necklace, a recent gift from Sam.
“I wear it always,’’ says Davina. “It doesn’t seem like Sam is gone until you look for her and she’s not there.’’
When it comes to Davina and Sam, their memories are much the same. The two grew up together, slept in each other’s beds, sat on the same school bus seat, shared clothes, watched movies and talked about boys.
Sam had a boyfriend in nearby Coachman’s Cove, who she loved as only a 13-year-old can. They were going steady. Davina says Sam loved him a lot. Millie had only one piece of advice for her daughter about men.
“If you’re ever looking for someone in life,’’ she would say, “look for someone like your dad.’’
Millie says she didn’t want her daughter to be anything especially great in life. She just wanted her daughter to be happy, to have respect for herself and her community.
“I didn’t want Sam to be taken advantage of,’’ says Millie. And Sam could hold her own. She had a voice and stood up for what she thought was right.
Millie and George centred much of their life around their daughter. They spent more than one New Year’s Eve hosting a party for Sam and her friends.
“When a kid leaves you and they look back, if they have good memories it holds them together,’’ Millie says is her philosophy.
Sam made a new year’s resolution this year, her mother says. “She said ‘I’m going to start going to church more.’ ‘’
Millie’s own resolution was to exercise more. She walked most days, before her daughter disappeared, and Sam always asked how her walk went.
When Millie talks about her daughter she says she feels like she’s talking about someone else, a stranger. “It’s like I’m in the middle of a book,’’ she says.
George remembers every moment of his daughter’s last day. “They were all good moments,’’ he says.
George drove his daughter to the Copper Creek ski hill in Baie Verte that day, Feb. 6. The two sang all the way there to tapes of The Fables and the Ennis Sisters. Sam spent the day skiing and then George picked her up.
The two sang all the way home. Then there was supper at Sam’s grandmother’s house, followed by a dessert of canned peaches and cream. George and Millie stayed late to take George’s mother to a card game.
Sam, who had stripped off her ski pants when she got to her grandmother’s house, didn’t bother to put them on for the three-minute walk to her house. She went home wearing her coat and hat and long johns covered by flannel pajama pants, pink with black and white lambs, bought the day before at Value Village.
But Sam never made it home. “Loves you, Mom,’’ were her last words to her mother.
George loves to tell stories about his daughter.
There was the time when Sam was two or three and he took her for a ride to Baie Verte. George promised his daughter candies but she fell asleep on the way and didn’t wake up until on the way back.
“ ‘Daddy, you’re going the wrong way,’ ” George recalls Sam as saying. “ ‘Daddy we’re on the wrong side of the road.’ ”
It’s hard to hear a man laugh and cry in the same breath.
It’s harder still to bear witness to a hurt that can’t be eased.
People do try, an effort George and Millie say they deeply appreciate. Cards, letters, faxes and e-mails have poured into the Walsh home since Sam’s disappearance.
There are messages from Russia, China, France, Norway and, of course, all across Newfoundland.
Some of the most touching cards are from Millie’s grades 4 and 5 students.
“I feel sorry about not seeing you in school,’’ writes Dora. “I’m sure Samantha will be home soon.’’
“I’m so sorry about what happened,’’ writes Savannah, another student. “I wish I could help you.’’
In Fleur de Lys today the chimneys continue to exhale fat, crooked rolls of smoke that carry with them the perfume of burning wood. Innocence has been shattered, the grief is intense but life goes on.
And light, always light, continues to shine through the windows of Fleur de Lys.
Michael Lewis misled investigators for 17 days before admitting he strangled Samantha Walsh in a cabin just outside the town. Sixteen years old at the time, he was convicted of murder in the case. George and Millie Walsh often spoke publicly about their quest to prevent Lewis from getting parole. Despite the Walsh family's campaign and after rejected appeals, day parole for Lewis was approved in the fall of 2011, and full parole in 2013. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

FFAW — Frigging fishermen and Alienating Workers

Good morning NL, all ships at sea, and inshore fish harvesters far and wide.

Just so you know, the FFAW-Unifor’s sole right as your union is to negotiate the price of fish, and administer the collective agreement.

That’s it.

Period. End of FFAW story. 

When it comes to negotiating fish quotas with Ottawa or compensation packages with Nalcor, the FFAW-Unifor needs your permission.

Case in point, the recent Supreme Court of NL case that found the FFAW-Unifor deceived scallop fishermen in the Strait of Belle Isle. 

The union had to get harvesters to sign consent forms to negotiate with Nalcor over compensation for the power line laid across the Strait, and its impact on scallop fishing in the decades to come.

The problem was the FFAW-Unifor only got the consent forms signed AFTER the union had negotiated a deal, and a deal that most scallop fishermen didn’t want.
What makes this point relevant is a letter the FFAW-Unifor has written to the Labour Relations Board in reaction to FISH-NL’s call for an immediate vote.

In the letter, the union expressed its concern that FISH-NL has been providing union representation to fish harvesters. 

(Damn right we have — the FFAW-Unifor has turned its back on supporters of FISH-NL, and thousands of harvesters have turned their back on the union.) 

Here’s a quote from the FFAW-Unifor letter: “If FISH-NL purports to represent any fish harvesters in the absence of a certification order, it is misleading those harvesters with those representations.”

The FFAW — Frigging Fishermen and Alienating Workers …  

During the 2016 scallop case, Jason Spingle, the FFAW’s west coast staff rep, tendered "what purported to be a consent form" to scallop harvesters meeting "in small groups in various locations."

The form was an insult to the intelligence of fish harvesters, and a reflection of the union's arrogance and gall: "... I hereby authorize Fish, Food and Allied Workers to negotiate a compensation agreement with Nalco to compensate license holders for lost access in the area in question. I hereby confirm that I will accept any compensation agreement which Fish, Food and Allied Workers is able to negotiate with Nalcor.”

That’s pathetic …

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

'Life's blood of Newfoundland'

Former federal Fisheries minister James McGrath
says inshore fishery only thing that can save outports

The following story was published in the Oct. 31st, 2004 edition of the now-defunct Independent newspaper, as part of a six-part cost-benefit analysis of Confederation (Part 3, fisheries).

Oct. 31st, 2004
By Stephanie Porter
The Independent

When James McGrath first became Fisheries minister for Canada in 1979, one of his middle managers — who happened to be a Newfoundlander — paid him a visit, with one piece of advice to offer.

“He said, ‘When you receive recommendations for total allowable catches, you should shave them by 25 per cent,’” McGrath says. “That’s how inexact the science is.”

One of the first decisions McGrath had to make as minister was whether to reopen the Gulf fishery to trawlers. Although it was unpopular at the time, he took the 25-per-cent-less advice he was given. Later, he maintains, it was recognized he did the right thing. 

“Who’s right?” he asks. “Is it the fishermen or the scientists? Somewhere in between, I figure, you have the truth.”

McGrath paints an uncomfortable picture of fisheries management: “inexact” or incomplete science people don’t trust; fishermen and women who aren’t always listened too; political pressure from many levels; and, at the head of it all, “the draconian power of the minister.”

“Within the Fisheries Act, one of (Canada’s) oldest acts … lies absolute power with one person,” McGrath says. “So that when we became a province of Canada, total say over our fisheries were vested in the hands of the Government of Canada. As a result of that, our fisheries were destroyed.”

“Our fishery was literally squandered. We had no say in the management of it and we don’t to this day.”

McGrath says Newfoundland and Labrador’s greatest, original renewable resource became the victim of competing interests — treated not as a Newfoundland and Labrador fishery — but as a common-property resource open to all Canadians.

McGrath first ran for politics in 1956 and lost. But he tried again, this time successfully, one year later, and won the St. John’s East seat for the Progressive Conservatives in 1957. He held the seat until 1963, then regained it in 1968 — keeping it, this time, until the mid-1980s. 

Through those years of politics, through his five-year stint as lieutenant governor of the province, and in the years since, McGrath has stayed informed, opinionated and, from time to time, incensed.

As a Yo Yo Ma Cd plays in the background, McGrath relaxes at the dining room table in his St. John’s apartment. The pink, white and green Newfoundland flag sit as a centrepiece. 

Although McGrath favoured responsible government over Confederation back in 1949, he’s not certain Newfoundland and Labrador should not be part of Canada.

“But, if we’d had our own parliament restored to us, as was promised, it would have negotiated with Canada, not a panel appointed by an English governor. We may have ended up in Canada … but if we had ended up part of Canada, we would have done so under better terms.”

That could have been the key to still having a cod fishery. But hindsight, as they say, is perfect.

“Fish was not the lucrative commodity then that it is now, but it was important enough I think we could have said to Canada, look, we want to negotiate. We don’t want to hand our fisheries over willy-nilly without certain conditions attached.

“That we want to be consulted on the awarding of quotas and using our precious fishery resources as bartering tools for the fisheries trade.”

But nobody questioned at the time what would happen to Newfoundland’s fisheries, once brought under the Canadian flag. And so decisions related to offshore fisheries were made in Ottawa, thousands of kilometres away from the people — and fish — they impacted.

McGrath says the next big chance for Canada to manage the fish properly was in the late-1970s, when the country implemented the 200-mile limit.

What should have been an opportunity for careful thought, McGrath says, Canada looked at it as a “bonanza, as a gold strike.” 

More fish plants were built, an aggressive Canadian offshore fleet was developed (in part, to feed the plants), and the foreign freezer trawlers were out in force. 

Cod were fished 12 months a year.

“You don’t have to be a marine biologist to know if you don’t give the animal time to reproduce it’s going to disappear.” And disappear it did. Even now, McGrath says, he doesn’t think DFO should “every contemplate sustaining an offshore trawler fishery.”

But he does think there’s room — even a necessity — for an inshore, hook-and-line fishery.

In 1979, when McGrath was Fisheries minister, he was quoted as saying this about rural Newfoundland: “for these people, for the people working in processing plants, for their families and the communities in which they live, the right and the ability to reap the (inshore) harvest is indispensable, because they have a  special, a very special relationship to these stocks.”

It’s a belief he holds today — strongly.

“I think there’s enough fish in our bays to sustain a hook-and-line fishery … however, the mindset in Ottawa is that the inshore is a “social fishery,” people fishing for stamps. 

“Not the life’s blood of Newfoundland, which it is, and has been for hundreds of years. They would like to see this social fishery, the inshore, disappear. And this is where we should be digging in our heels. Because the inshore fishery is the only thing that can save rural Newfoundland.”

Without federal-provincial joint management, McGrath says theres’s little hope for the fishery of the future. Admittedly pessimistic, he wonders aloud whether the current media excitement surrounding Danny Williams and the Atlantic Accord could, in the end, give Newfoundland and Labrador a leg up on other negotiations.

“We don’t have much clout in the federation and that’s a real problem,” he says. “We have to get their attention.”

“I think out of this oil thing, perhaps we have their attention. Openline shows are now talking about separation and its doesn’t surprise me.

“Maybe the offshore oil situation has shown us the way .. we have an offshore management board which has federal appointees, provincial appointees, and industrial appointees.

“The same could work for our fishery. But it would mean opening up and amending the draconian Fisheries Act.”

Monday, January 9, 2017

Harvester uprising not a raid of the FFAW, but a full fledged revolt

I delivered the following remarks on Friday, Dec. 30th, 2016 during a news conference after FISH-NL filed an application for certification with the Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Board.

Good morning, thank you for coming. 

Earlier this morning an application was presented to the Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Board requesting that FISH-NL be certified as the new bargaining agent for inshore fish harvesters.

The application includes membership cards signed by inshore harvesters from more than 300 communities around the province.

We feel we have the support of more than 50 per cent of all inshore harvesters that we know of — we certainly had the support of more than 80 per cent of all harvesters we encountered. 

But there are few certainties in this process. 

FISH-NL does not know the exact number of inshore fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador, because we were not permitted access to a definitive list.

Such a list would have made our job a lot easier, that IS a certain.  

In the absence of a definitive list, FISH-NL’s executive does not feel comfortable in revealing publicly exactly how many membership cards we have submitted to the Labour Relations Board.

We don’t want to give the FFAW the opportunity to pad the list any more than they probably already have. 

FISH-NL has come a long way since we formalized in late October. 

Over the past 60 days since we started this membership drive, we held 49 formal meetings on every coast, and our crew of more than 200 volunteers spoke with thousands of fish harvesters in their homes, on the stages and wharves, wherever fishermen/fisherwomen gather. 

What we’re attempting has been described — not as a raid of another union — but as a full fledged revolt. 

Fish harvesters are not satisfied with their current union representation — we heard that message loud and clear everywhere we went. 

The FFAW has not been cutting it —  in terms of transparency, there is no trust between the union and its membership. 


In terms of consultation — there’s been consultation as of late, make no mistake — but only since FISH-NL came on the scene. 

Before that, when a meeting was held it was to TELL harvesters what had already been decided. 

The FFAW hasn’t been cutting it in terms of holding the government of Canada to account for Fisheries Management. 

Who’s the union? Who’s the manager? The line between the two hasn’t been blurred so much as obliterated. 

Harvesters don’t feel their interests are being put first.

There are too many conflicts of interest — between harvester, plant worker and trawlermen, between the union and government, between the union and processing companies. 

And harvesters demand change. 

They say change must come now. 

When FISH-NL held our first news conference in Petty Harbour in early September, Keith Sullivan, president of the FFAW, called us a vocal minority. 

That has never been the case. 

The unrest in the fishery is in every harbour, in every cove, in every corner of this province. 

The FFAW’s has been either been blind to it, or the union chooses to ignore it. 

Either way, change is upon us. 

This has been always been a David vs. Goliath battle. 

In terms of funding … 

FISH-NL has raised about $48,000 — primarily through donations — to fund our campaign. 

That’s a pittance compared to the funds the FFAW has access to. 

It’s been a David vs. Goliath battle in terms of the geography FISH-NL had to cover in an incredibly tight time line. 

In terms of the absence of a definitive list of fish harvesters, which I’ve already mentioned. 

In terms of constant fear mongering, and intimidation. 

FFAW representatives attended most of our meetings (or were out in the parking lot) and kept track of who came and who went. 

Despite the fact the Labour Relations Board assured us the FFAW would not have access to FISH-NL membership cards, some harvesters still feared repercussions. 

And the lies that were spread were outrageous — FISH-NL, for example, has not been funded by the offshore sector. 

For those reason alone, combined with the huge support we’ve gathered, FISH-NL urges the Labour Relations Board to proceed with a secret ballot. 

Despite the obstacles, here we are today. 

This has never been about me. 

Deflecting attention from the legitimate concerns of harvesters towards me — and my motivation for leading FISH-NL — has been a strategic decision on the part of the FFAW. 

Attack the messenger — ignore the brutal, critical message. 

The FFAW has failed its membership.

I was asked by fish harvesters to lead this revolt, and I’ve done that. 

FISH-NL is not the problem; FISH-NL is a symptom of a crisis facing our greatest industry. 

The fishery on many coasts is dying. 

It’s too hard for young people to get into the industry, and the safety of harvesters is not the No. 1 priority. 

Harvesters are being pounded by fees and charges, with no end in sight. 

Shrimp and crab are on the decline and — while codfish may be on the return — the prices are too low. 

Of all the questions that have been raised about FFAW secrecy/conflict of interest in recent months, one of the most unbelievable discoveries was that the union had proposed a 5 cent a pound ‘levy’ on lobster. 

Fish harvesters didn’t know about the FFAW proposal until FISH-NL brought it to light in early December. 

The FFAW argued the 5 cent levy was to cover the union’s “management” of the fishery. 

To quote the union: “The bulk of the work once conducted by DFO is now being done by the FFAW, with no financial or in-kind support from the processing sector.” 

How many lobster fishermen were asked their input on a levy? None. 

The fact that the union is taking over management responsibilities from DFO should be a concern to every harvester in this province … 

DFO is downloading to the FFAW, and the FFAW is taking it — without a word of complaint. 

The union cannot represent and manage in the same breathe, but that’s what’s happening. 

Has the FFAW taken over management responsibilities for other species besides lobster? 

We don’t know. 

How many other secret details has the FFAW done without the input of its membership? 

We don’t know. 

Is that the reason why the FFAW is against outsider buyers?


FISH-NL has proposed that the provincial government lift all restrictions and allow out-of-province buyers into the provincial marketplace for all species.

An open and free market in the fishing industry would, at best, result in increased competition and more money in the pockets of fish harvesters. 

At worst, it would keep local buyers honest. 

The seascape of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishing industry has already changed since FISH-NL came the scene. 

Harvesters have gotten calls from their union for the first time in their lives.

More meetings have been held with harvesters since the fall than have been held in years. 

The concerns of harvesters — and there are many — have been front and centre for months. 

But it’s not enough. 

I said this at the start of our campaign and I’ll say it again: the FFAW has lost its way.

The union has mutated into a corporation more concerned with feeding itself than looking after the best interests of its membership. 

The FFAW has also consistently refused to respond to the issues raised by FISH-NL. 

FISH-NL will not let up not let up on the pressure. 

We plan to ask Revenue Canada to investigate the FRC — a not-for-profit dockside monitoring company controlled by the FFAW — for millions of dollars skimmed off the top by the union over the years. 

We’ve made that accusations for months, but not a word in reply from the FFAW. 

How is that possible? 

Where is the union oversight? There is none? 

Who keeps checks of the unions? 

No one. 

Over the coming days and weeks, the Labour Relations Board will review our application and verify the membership cards.

The Board will determine whether we have the support of at least 40 per cent of fish harvesters, which would trigger an actual vote by the Labour Relations Board. 

That vote will be 50 per cent plus one, and ultimately decide which union will represent fish harvesters.

FISH-NL would like to thank the fish harvesters who signed membership cards, and the more than 200 volunteers who circulated them around the province.

It’s been an honour and an absolute privilege to travel this province and meet fish harvesters wherever they gather. 

Thank you.