The following is my address on Monday, Sept. 26th, to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries in Oceans, which met in St. John’s to discuss northern cod.
Mr. Chair, Members of Parliament, welcome to St. John’s.
My name is Ryan Cleary, and I’m the former Member of Parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl. I served in the last Parliament (2011-2015).
And I spent most of that time on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
We did a fair number of studies, but the committee only travelled once — and that wasn’t to any province in Canada — but to Washington, D.C. as part of a study on closed-containment aquaculture.
You can study a problem to death in an Ottawa boardroom, but you can’t underestimate the impact of being on the ground.
So when I say welcome, I sincerely mean it — hope to see you here often in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. (MP Scott) Simms (chair of the committee).
I speak to you today first as a former journalist.
I covered the northern cod moratorium on July 2, 1992 when John Crosbie shut down the fishery.
I worked for the local daily newspaper — The Telegram, and the front-page headline of the next day’s paper read: “No fishing, 19,000 out of work in northern cod ban.”
That was 19,000 direct jobs on the water and in fish plants.
The number didn’t include spinoff jobs.
The total number of job losses as a result of the northern cod moratorium was estimated at closer to 30,000.
And that was compared to the Dust Bowl that swept thousands of Prairie farmers from the land in the 1930s.
The moratorium was initially supposed to last 2 years.
It’s been 24 years, as you know, and Newfoundland and Labrador has lost an estimated 80,000 people.
One of the biggest concerns back then was what was termed “transfer of effort.”
It was feared that the intense fishing effort that had been directed at northern cod would be redirected to the next species, and then the next species, and then the next …
Until there was nothing left in the North Atlantic.
Thankfully, that hasn’t happened, as you know, Mr. Chair, although the health of other stocks like shrimp and crab and caplin has fluctuated wildly.
I also speak to you today not as one of the leaders of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador — or FISH-NL
FISH-NL has been described as a breakaway union.
Most fishery workers in Newfoundland and Labrador — including fish harvesters, fish plant workers, and offshore trawler men — are currently represented by the FFAW, or Fish, Food and Allied Workers union.
That’s a conflict of interest.
Fish harvesters specifically want to break away and from their own standalone union — FISH-NL — which will play out over the coming months.
Part of the reason fish harvesters are ready to revolt in this province is consultation — the fact that there isn’t any.
This year’s northern cod stewardship fishery is a prime example.
The absence of consultation has resulted in a northern cod fishery that puts the lives of harvesters at greater risk, and has led to the dumping of untold thousands of pounds of northern cod.
FISH-NL has held meetings around Newfoundland — involving hundreds of fishermen — and I’ve yet to meet a single harvester who said they were consulted about this year’s northern cod fishery.
Fish harvesters say the one-year management plan has resulted in thousands of pounds of northern cod being left dead in the water.
This year’s fishery eliminated the Individual Quota or IQ system in favour of an extended season with weekly landing limits.
Harvesters could take 2,000 pounds of cod from mid-August to early September, and 3,000 pounds a week from early September to the end of the season.
Harvesters all too often reach their weekly quota when they STILL have gill nets in the water.
As a result, when all the nets are hauled thousands of pounds of dead cod are left in the oceans so harvesters don’t exceed their quota — so they’re not charged in court.
Fish harvesters have a theory that the cod fishery was stretched out over more weeks so the FFAW could collect more union does — harvesters see no other logical explanation.
Safety is also an issue because — with only 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of fish to take a week — it doesn’t make economic sense to take a longliner (a bigger boat) out to catch cod.
Not when you pay your expenses and your crew.
Harvesters say they’re being forced into smaller boats — which obviously aren’t as safe.
Earlier this month four fishermen from Shea Heights, a neighbourhood here here in St. John’s, were lost in a 22-foot open boat not far from St. John’s harbour.
I was also eager to appear before this committee to alert federal politicians and the Government of Canada to a growing crisis of confidence in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery, involving the FFAW.
On one hand, the FFAW is responsible for holding the Government of Canada to account for day-today management decisions and overall fishery policy.
On the other hand, the FFAW takes in untold millions of dollars a year from various federal government departments and agencies to administer various fisheries programs.
There’s a conflict of interest to begin with in terms of the FFAW representing fish plant workers and fish harvesters.
But the added element of conflict of interest involving government funds undermines faith in the industry .
Normal checks and balances that accompany a regular union-management dynamic can be compromised when funds change hands between the two, negatively impacting the entire fishing industry.
The federal Auditor General was asked to investigate federal funds directed to the FFAW, but his office declined, referring the concerns to DFO auditors.
I heard earlier today presentations by the president of the FFAW and the provincial Minister of Fisheries.
Both the union and provincial Fisheries department have outlined the science roles they’ve taken on — because the federal government hasn’t been doing the work.
But it’s the Government of Canada that’s responsible for the harvesting sector, for proper management.
The lines between the function of the fishermen’s union, the federal government, and the provincial government have been blurred.
We need to bring those roles back into focus.
To quote a fishermen in an article today, “The union now is DFO to us.”
The Government of Canada must be made to live up to its responsibilities to manage fish stocks — that means good science, that means proper enforcement, and a sound management structure.
Twenty-four years after the northern cod moratorium was handed down and we’re only now — as there’s sign that cod are coming back — talking about a plan to move forward.
We should be ashamed.