I gave the following speech on Oct. 27th at the Albatros Hotel in Gander to start the founding convention of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL). Salt and pepper refers to the hair colour of most harvesters, who are middle aged or older.
Welcome to the founding convention of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador — or FISH-NL.
I ran into a fine crowd in the hotel this morning from Francois on the south coast.
They came a long way to get here — a three-hour boat trip, and then a six-hour drive
One of the men in the group told me, “We’d better make this worth his while.”
We’ll do our best, you can be assured of that.
B’y, I don’t know about you, but I think the name FISH-NL has a real ring to it.
Fish is why we’re here, fish will keep us here.
The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador will be a union exclusively for fish harvesters.
Fish harvesters first — that’s our motto, that’s what we stand for.
To begin, I want to thank you for your patience.
A lot of people are working very hard to get this founding convention, this movement, right.
But what we’re attempting to do — what we WILL do — hasn’t been done in decades.
What we’re attempting to do will change the course of Newfoundland and Labrador history.
As scientist George Rose once said: “The fishery will write the future of Newfoundland and Labrador as it has written its history.”
What we’re attempting to do will put the power back in the hands of fish harvesters.
Which means taking that power from the FFAW — a David vs. Goliath battle, for sure.
But a battle that will be waged in every cove, in every harbour, on the stages and wharves, on decks and below.
A battle for the bests interests of fish harvesters.
Our shoulders are to the wheel, hard work has never been an issue.
We have the best of intentions, but there are always bumps in the road, which is why we ask for your patience.
But make no mistake, we’re on the road to a better fishery.
This battle has already been personal, and we expect it to get a lot messier by the time we’re done
The FFAW won’t let go of power without a fight, but they will surrender.
The FFAW will be no match for the will for change, the will to fix what’s broken.
Our resolve must not waver.
Because the FFAW has lost it way.
And — despite the union’s recent attempts to pick up its game — the FFAW is beyond salvation.
The sacred trust between the FFAW and its membership has been broken, broken in terms of transparency, consultation and faith.
Faith that the bests interests of fish harvesters are always put first.
None of the fish harvesters I speak to believe that.
The FFAW has too many agendas, too many conflicts of interests.
Be it in representing fish plant workers and fish harvesters under the same union umbrella, or in pulling in millions of dollars a year from the Government of Canada, the conflicts are countless.
It’s a job to keep DFO in check — to ensure that the Government of Canada lives up to its responsibilities for fisheries management as outlined under the Terms of Union — it’s job to do that when Ottawa dollars are fattening the union’s wallet.
I want to speak this morning about why we’re here, what has brought us to this point — this fisheries revolution.
And it is that, a revolution of the status quo, and it’s been a long-time coming.
Fish harvesters are at their breaking point — in terms of fees and dues, in terms of lack of fish.
Their average age is close to 60, I suspect, with not too many years left on the water.
As a journalist, a young reporter with the Evening Telegram, I covered the moratorium.
I was there at the hotel in downtown St. John’s when John Crosbie shut down the northern cod fishery, and 19,000 jobs disappeared.
I’ve witnessed unrest in the fishery — violence, anger, protest, despair.
But I’ve never seen the unrest as widespread as it is today — in every corner of the province.
I’ve never seen such resolve in the eyes of fishermen and fisherwoman for change.
Harvesters say if we don’t do it now, we’ll never do it.
I think they’re right — it’s now or never.
There’s unrest on the Great Northern Peninsula, where scallop harvesters had to take the FFAW — their own union — to court for failing to represent their best interests.
At trial, it was clear that the union had sent draft proposals to Nalco in August and September of 2012 for loss of their fishing grounds, but didn’t ask fishermen for permission to negotiate until May 2013.
And then the FFAW took almost $400,000 in administration fees for its trouble.
The trial judge concluded that the union “failed in its responsibilities to fishermen.”
“Failed in its responsibilities to fishermen.”
There’s unrest on the south coast of Newfoundland over access to scallop beds on the St. Pierre Bank.
Fishermen there took to the streets this summer in protest, and couldn’t even get a meeting with the union rep.
Fishermen on the south coast — who are having a harder and harder time making a go of it, in terms of a decline in the scallop quota and a downturn in other fisheries such as crab — are restricted to the northern scallop bed.
When access to the other two scallop beds on the St. Pierre Bank is reserved for Nova Scotia’s offshore fleet.
I wrote the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans this summer on behalf of south coast scallop fishermen, asking that they be given access to the other scallop beds.
It was only this week that the Minister wrote me back and said that his department has on plans to revisit its policy.
That’s not good enough — that’s unacceptable.
If the federal Liberals embraced the principles of adjacency and historical attachment in deciding to eliminate the LIFO policy for northern shrimp, the federal Liberals must embrace the principles of adjacency and historical attachment for other fisheries — including scallops on the St. Pierre Bank.
FISH-NL will have a fight on its hands, but it’s a fight that will be waged.
Because we stand for fish harvesters.
There’s unrest on the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador over the sentinel cod fishery since the FFAW decided to eliminate Individual Quotas (IQs) in favour of weekly limits — without asking anyone, without asking its membership.
The FFAW hasn’t just lost its way — it’s forgotten where it came from.
The FFAW has become indistinguishable from DFO — they are one and the same.
Starting about seven months ago I was approached by fishermen from around the province.
Jason Sullivan from Bay Bulls, Keith Bath from La Scie, Richard Gillett from Twillingate, Wayne Meade from Grand Bank — and others.
And they asked me, independently, to lead them in starting a new union, a union strictly for fish harvesters.
I’ve had my problems with the FFAW for years.
I used to run a newspaper called The Independent and in 2008 I wrote a column called Yesterday’s Union about the FFAW.
To quote my column, “I say the union should be charged in court for failing to act as the fishery drowns at its feet.”
Eight years later, and the FFAW is as lost today as it was then.
In June 2011 — just after I was elected as a Member of Parliament — I gave my maiden speech in the House of Commons, a speech that was centered around the fishery.
I told a story about a fisherman by the name of Paul Critch, who owned a 60-footer based out of St. John’s.
Paul was in his early 40s — strong, capable — and a 5th generation fisherman.
Paul and I met on the campaign trail, and he told me he named his boat the Chelsea and Emily after his two daughters.
Upon the birth of his second daughter, Paul said his father remarked, “Thank God.”
“Thank God it’s not a boy.”
A grandson would have to go into the fishery.
And who wants that.
This is what Newfoundland and Labrador has come to in terms of our once great fisheries — the greatest fisheries in the world, the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, the fisheries that we presented to Canada in 1949 …
Most fish harvesters today are middle aged, and getting older, few young people are coming in.
But then foreign interests are moving in.
Reports say that Nova Scotia’s Clearwater just bought a piece of Ocean Choice International.
OCI holds more fish quotas than any other company.
Will the Grand Banks be sold off to the highest bidder?
Not under the watch of FISH-NL, you can be assured of that.
In March, the Newfoundland and Labrador government ignored objections and approved the sale of one of the province's largest seafood processors, Quin-Sea Fisheries Ltd., to Royal Greenland.
Quin-Sea operates a half-dozen plants in the province.
It isn’t know whether the deal included any trust agreements, which effectively control harvesting quotas.
Norweigan-owned Grieg Newfoundland is moving into Placentia Bay with an aquaculture project — one of the largest in Canada — that hasn’t been subject to a full environmental assessment, and with a $45 million blessing from the NL government.
If Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t careful, our once great fisheries may eventually be controlled by outside interests.
When the dust clears Norway, Iceland and Denmark could have a major stake in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery — and with it a large chunk of Canadian fish quotas.
Not if FISH-NL has anything to do with it.
In my years covering the fisheries as a journalist, over my years serving on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, I have never/will never be able to let go of the injustices done to our fisheries, both self-inflicted and from remote Ottawa.
Not until our course is corrected.
In July, I asked the Auditor General of Canada to investigate the federal funds that flow into the FFAW for conflict of interest.
I also asked the Auditor General to review the controversial snow crab quota awarded to a company with incredibly close ties to the FFAW for potential conflict of interest and misrepresentation.
Ches Cribb was vice-president of the FFAW’s Deepsea Sector in 1995 when he first asked for a quota.
He didn’t get it, and the very next year he made the same request.
Not as an FFAW Vice-President, but as president of a private company — Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters.
And he got the crab quota.
The FFAW says it has no connection to that crab quota, but the proof is there in black and white in federal documents that were only released in the last few months.
What’s happened to the millions of dollars in profits made by a company that was initially billed as a co-op?
Members of the FFAW are the last to know.
That must change.
The Auditor General refused to investigate, referring the file to DFO auditors — another conflict of interest.
Then there’s the FRC.
The Fish Harvesters’ Resource Centres is an FFAW-controlled company, a not-for-profit created in 1993 strictly to verify fish landings.
At the same time, we only learned a couple of months ago that the FRC paid the FFAW almost $5.7 million over 10 years for “shrimp grading and crab research fees.”
What’s a dockside monitoring company doing paying millions of dollars to to the FFAW for crab research and shrimp grading?
Has the FFAW been skimming profit?
The FFAW won’t say, their only response to legitimate concerns is the personal attack.
The bulk of the FRC’s revenue comes from fishermen, who are charged a fee for dockside monitoring based on species and catch.
The news raises the question whether fish harvesters — many of whom are already struggling in light of dwindling stocks such as crab and shrimp, as well as escalating fishery fees — have been overcharged for dockside monitoring, which is mandatory as a condition of licensing.
Have you been overcharged?
No, of course you don’t know.
Who knows what goes on in the FFAW — certainly not its members.
I also wrote the Canadian Labour Congress to investigate the FFAW (one of its affiliated members) for conflict of interest.
And to investigate what many fishermen see as the warping of the FFAW from a union into a corporation, focused more with feeding itself than the fishery workers it serves.
The president of the Canadian Labour Congress, Hassan Yussuff, wrote me back to say the concerns that have been expressed are fabricated, described them as nothing more than an opportunistic attempt by me to divide the FFAW/UNIFOR.
I say the Canadian Labour Congress is as out of touch as the FFAW.
But then the FFAW probably wrote that letter in the first place.
Keith Sullivan was asked to debate me face to face by VOCM’s Open Line, and the CBC’s Fisheries Broadcast.
Sullivan declined, but then wrote a letter to the editor of The Telegram.
A letter that amounted to one huge personal attack.
He said I was no Richard Cashin.
B’y let me tell you — I never set out to be.
I saw Keith Sullivan’s letter as an act of cowardice, certainly not the type the leadership our fishery is in such desperate need of.
More than that, writing a letter — the thrust of which was a personal attack against me — was a slap in the face to fish harvesters, whose concerns the FFAW has failed to acknowledge.
At their peril.
The union’s arrogance is astounding and unforgivable.
Harvesters do not trust their union — period.
As I’ve said before, the FFAW is a conflict of interest wrapped in a mystery inside a huge puzzle with pieces missing, the missing pieces being fish.
There is no transparency is terms of the funds (government or otherwise) flowing into the union’s coffers, or where exactly the money is spent.
Should union profit be spent on making life easier for its members — lowering fees and dues, for example — or on a gold-plated pension plan and new trucks for executive members?
By the way, that FFAW pension plan for its executive was started in 1992, the same year as the northern cod moratorium.
The fishery falls and the FFAW prospers.
That raised alarm bells with me a long long time ago.
When it comes to DFO mismanagement, the gutting of federal science or even useless/toothless NAFO, the FFAW has failed to hold the powers that be to account.
In turn, the FFAW has failed fish harvesters, and all of rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
It’s time for change.
The time for revolution is now.
Fish-NL stands for transparency.
FISH-NL stands for consultation.
FISH-NL stands for harvesters first.
FISH NL stands for holding the Government of Canada to account for its fisheries responsibilities as outlined under the Terms of Union.
FISH NL stands for the principles of adjacency and historical attachment principles that must be be adopted for all fish resources off Newfoundland and Labrador — inside Canadian waters and in the NAFO-regulatory zone.
There have been a few watershed moments for me to date in this movement.
I’m sure there will be many more.
But the most touching (and I’ve told this story many times) was at the public meeting we held in September at the Corner Brook Legion.
Just before the meeting began Stella Mailman pulled me aside.
Stella’s a senior from Port aux Choix who still fishes with her husband.
Stella told me how she went around decades ago with Richard Cashin and the late Father Des McGrath, signing up fishermen on the Great Northern Peninsula for the union when it got off the ground.
Stella said she was compelled to attend the Corner Brook meeting to see “history repeat itself,” because, as so many agree, it’s “time for change.”
Stella later took to an open microphone and — I can still see her in my mind’s eye — she raised her fist in defiance of the FFAW.
That’s why we’re here today.
Rising up in defiance of a union that has lost its way, that has forgotten where it came from.
Rising up in defiance of a shameful management system, and a system that fails to put Newfoundland and Labrador fish harvesters first.
Rising up against indifference that has seemed into the FFAW leadership, and has kept our fighting Newfoundlanders and Labradorias — our fish harvesters — down.