Sunday, April 18, 2021

Why are lobster prices lower in Newfoundland?

The answer should boil the blood of every NL lobster harvester: the answer isn’t known, because fish processors/buyers won’t say. 

That’s right, the province’s Fish Price Setting Panel said this past week that “overall prices to harvesters in other jurisdictions were somewhat higher than in Newfoundland,” but in the absence of information from processors, who the hell knows.

Some of the price differential has to do with transportations costs. Newfoundland processors are also the only buyers in Atlantic Canada to pay workers comp, and EI benefits on top of wharf prices. 

But all those costs don’t come close to the as much as $3-$5 a pound price difference between what's paid to NL harvesters, and mainland harvesters. 

At the same time, Newfoundland lobster are the best on the market — two-clawed, with hard shells and high meat content.

Another example of NL fishermen being under the thumb of the merchant (like snow crab), and another example (like snow crab) of how the Fish Price Setting Panel doesn't work ...  

Bay of Islands fisherman Reg MacDonald. CBC photo

DFO data shows that average annual landed lobster prices to fish harvesters declined to $4.46/lb. in 2020, down from $6.03 in 2019, and a record high of $6.95 in 2017. 

There is a more positive outlook for 2021.

This year’s fishery had begun/will begin in the coming days around Newfoundland and Labrador, but the price won’t be known until on or near April 28th, after lobster hits the market, and the pricing formula kicks in. 

That formula was tinkered with a bit this year in favour of the FFAW, as decided recently by the Fish Price Setting Panel.

Word on the wharf today is that lobster are selling in Nova Scotia for $12 a pound, with harvesters here in NL expecting to be paid a lot less, as is too often the case.

The 2021 price of snow crab is a prime example, with harvesters here paid $5.73 a pound vs $7:50+ a pound in NS.

Lobster boats in Little Port, Bay of Islands. 

Newfoundland lobster landings have shown dramatic growth in recent years — landings peaked in 2020 at 4,915 tonnes (10.8 million pounds), which is more than double the landings in 2014 (up 230%). 

By 2019, landed value reached $62 million, an increase of 330% over 2014. However, in 2020 landed value declined to $48.2 million because of depressed prices resulting from the emerging Covid-19 pandemic. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

New voice for fish harvesters; SEA-NL to represent independent owner operators

The fishing boats of Bay de Verde, Conception Bay.  

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — Thursday, April 15th, 2021

A new group — the Seafood Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) — is being formed to serve as the independent voice of the province’s more than 3,000 licensed commercial inshore fish harvesters. 

“Owner-operators are a distinct group within the province’s fishing industry, and it’s high time they were recognized as such,” says Ryan Cleary, an inshore fisheries advocate, and one of the organizers. 

“The fish harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador must realize how much power they would have if they came together,” said Cleary. “No government, no union, no companies could stop them. Owner-operators should be leading their own industry, and a strong organization with a collective voice like SEA-NL could achieve that goal.”

Cleary, a former federal Member of Parliament, led the FISH-NL union (2016-2019) in an attempt to break all inshore harvesters away from the FFAW-Unifor, which represents competing sectors within the province’s fishery. The experience and insights gained from that battle — as well as the time spent since working as an inshore fishery consultant — highlight the critical need to establish an independent voice for licensed harvesters.

SEA-NL will represent the interests of licensed owner-operators only, and as an association won’t need permission from the province’s Labour Relations Board  to organize and incorporate. SEA-NL will not be in a position to negotiate fish prices, although that would be an eventual goal. 

“SEA-NL’s primary mission will be to support fish harvesters, advocate for healthy fisheries, and strengthen fishing communities,” said Merv Wiseman, another organizer. 

A one-time inshore fisherman himself, Wiseman has been an outspoken advocate for search and rescue and fishing vessel safety in the province, with extensive leadership/organizing experience in the province’s agriculture and fur-breeding industries. 

Benefits of SEA-NL would include: a distinct voice for owner-operators; membership votes on policy; breaks on insurance, fuel, fishing gear, etc. that would come with bulk purchases; freedom from conflicts of interest with other industry sectors, governments, and members; and a transparent and accountable organization.

SEA-NL would also gather information from DFO/government departments and then communicate regulations, industry news, and other important information to the membership. The association would represent the interests of owner-operators in terms of public policy, and industry, government and media relations.

“Owner-operators owe it to themselves to join the new association,” said Wiseman. “The leadership structure in the fishery today clearly isn’t working — not for fish harvesters, not for fish stocks, and certainly not for our province’s fishing communities.” 

Over the coming days SEA-NL plans to incorporate as a not-for-profit corporation, and undertake consultations/sign-ups with owner-operators around the province. From there, SEA-NL will set up a volunteer board of directors representing over/under 40’ fleets in fishing zones around the province, set membership fees, and establish an office with enabling staff.


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

'Where did all the f---ing money go?'

Former offshore trawlermen demand investigation into what happened to millions of dollars generated from offshore crab quota meant to support them, and how it was sold without their knowledge for fraction of value to Conne River First Nation 

The offshore trawler Katrina Charlene, best known as "the union boat," was sold in 2019.

The Katrina Charlene and the crab quota it was built to fish have been in the news for almost 20 years for their connection to the FFAW. The story made national news in February when a Fishery Officer alleged DFO kept quiet a conviction against the trawler, so as to not embarrass the union. Today, there’s news the quota sold recently for $1 million, a fraction of its estimated value, to Conne River First Nation. The boat and quota have been sold, but questions remain. What happened to the tens of millions of dollars generated by the crab quota? Fisherman’s Road lays out the story as it’s never been told.

Final of a three-part series. 

By Ryan Cleary 

The controversial offshore snow crab quota fished by “the union boat” for almost 20 years — generating revenues estimated at between $30 and $60 million — was quietly sold late last year to the Miawpukek First Nation at Conne River for $1 million. 

That’s according to Ches Cribb, the one-time FFAW executive, and president of the company that held the quota, Offshore Fish Resource harvesters Inc. 


The news raises the question why the offshore crab quota that reached as high as 500 tonnes (1.1 million pounds) sold for millions of dollars less than market value? The going rate today for a small supplementary crab licence (65,000 pounds) is more than $2 million.

Questions are also being raised about transparency and accountability. The crab quota was supposed to support a cooperative of trawlermen displaced by the cod collapse of the early 1990s.

Only some trawlermen say they’ve never been given an accounting of the revenues from the quota over the 24 years it was issued, and say they weren’t consulted about its sale. 

While the crab quota was sold in December, the trawler Katrina Charlene — a.k.a. the union boat, which was built in 2001 to fish the crab quota — was sold in 2019 to RS Marine Ltd. (owned by sole director, Rex Simmonds), and renamed the Patrick and William.

Terry Barnes and other offshore trawlermen who worked aboard the Harbour Grace-based trawler Northern Kingfisher in the late 1980s/early 1990s are demanding an investigation. 

“They had no right to sell the quota that was not theirs, and a full investigation should be made into the money that was made from the crab, the sale of the quota and the boat, plus a private audit of everyone who received money from the crab,” said Barnes, who tried unsuccessfully to get an offshore crab quota for the Kingfisher’s crew in the 1990s.

“There should be complete transparency. You have trawlermen who never got no work after, and went on social assistance or packed up and went to Alberta. Where did all the fucking money go?”

A spokesman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in St. John’s confirmed recently that the mid-shore crab licence previously held by Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc. was reissued to the Miawpukek First Nation at Conne River in late 2020.

“DFO is not involved or aware of the details of the arrangement between the parties,” the spokesman said. 

Fisherman John Cabot, who was also issued an offshore crab quota in the mid 1990s, joins Barnes in calling for an investigation.

He estimates the crab quota held by Offshore Fish Resources Harvesters Inc. may have generated upwards of $60 million in revenue over the 24 years the licence was fished, based on an average crab price of $2.50 a pound.

He also said the selling price for a crab quota of up to 500 tonnes would be in the range of $27 million-$33 million, based on a market price of between $25-$30 a pound for snow crab “in the water.”

The Katrina Charlene has been controversial from the day it was built in 2001 for its connection to the FFAW. This story appeared in the May 2004 Independent newspaper. 

According to the province’s Registry of Deeds, the company’s seven directors include Cribb, and Reg Anstey, a former secretary-treasurer of the FFAW. Anstey currently serves as chair of the FFAW’s elections committee, and head of the province’s Fish Processing Licensing Board. 

When contacted, Anstey referred questions to Cribb.

In an interview, Cribb said the snow crab licence was transferred late last year to the Conne River Miawpukek First Nation for $1 million. 

Cribb explained he and the board of Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc. thought the crab licence had no value because it couldn’t be transferred as it was.

A spokesman for DFO explained that the crab quota issued to the company was an exploratory one, and could not be sold. However, the quota could be converted into a commercial or communal licence, and then transferred. 

The spokesman said precedence for such a move had been set in 2008 when three other offshore exploratory crab quotas that had been issued in 1996 (including Cabot’s) were converted to commercial licences, which remain active to this day. 

At one point during an interview, Cribb said he asked DFO why the department hadn’t done the same with the crab licence issued to his company, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc., but was told “there was too much politics.”

Cribb said he was “approached” by someone (he wouldn’t say whom) not to renew the crab licence so it could be reissued to Conne River. He said he liked the idea because the licence would go to another “community that would benefit.”

When contacted, Chief Misel Joe of the Conne River First Nation was asked to confirm the $1 million purchase price of the crab licence, as well as the rumour that the trawler Patrick and William (formerly the Katrina Charlene) is now fishing the crab quota for Conne River.

Joe said he wasn’t familiar with such details, but would look into it. He did not return calls. 

The Katrina Charlene was sold in 2019 and renamed the Patrick and William. 

According to Cribb, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc. walked away from the transfer of the crab licence with $750,000 after taxes, money that will contribute to paying the cost of health insurance for roughly 160 offshore trawlermen who were shareholders in the company.

“We will continue to put money into the pockets of trawlermen until we run out of money,” he said. 

Cribb said the company was set up in such a way that “no one pockets money,” adding he himself only collected a salary. “The company was set up with heavy restrictions,” he says. “Everyone has one share and the maximum annual payout is $100 annually.”

Meantime, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc. is described on the U.S.-based Dun and Bradstreet business directory as having “25 total employees across all of its locations and generates $5.31 million in sales (USD).”

Again, Cribb could not say how much revenue or profit was generated by the snow crab licence over the 24 years it was held by the Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc., or provide a formal accounting of how the money was spent.

However, he strongly disputed the $60-million revenue figure put forward by Cabot, suggesting it was closer to half that amount.

Cribb said his elected role with the FFAW ended in 2010, and he was never a full-time employee of the union.

Rather, in the mid-1990s he managed a government-sponsored training and adjustment program to create opportunities for displaced trawlermen that was funded through Ottawa’s fish-aid packages at the time, including The Atlantic Groundfish Strategy (TAGS). 

Cribb says when that money began to run out, he travelled the province and signed up trawlermen as shareholders for $1 each. He figures 75-80 displaced trawlermen fished the crab quota over the years. 

Between 1996-2001 — the years prior to the construction of the Katrina Charlene — the company made no profit, Cribb said. 

He added the decision to build the fishing vessel over 100-feet in length was made upon the advice of DFO officials, so as to not cause “political upheaval.” (Cribb said he recalled those specific words from DFO at the time.)

Meantime, former Fishery Officer Jason Bateman — who alleges a 2012 conviction against the skipper of the union boat for illegally fishing undersized crab was kept quiet by DFO so as to not embarrass the FFAW — told The Globe and Mail in February that too often the lines are blurred between DFO and the FFAW.

He said the union exerts enormous power and influence over the federal department.

Former Fishery Officer Jason Bateman alleged a 2012 conviction against the Katrina Charlene was kept quiet by DFO so as to not embarrass the FFAW. DFO denies the charge. 

Indeed, in terms of organized labour the FFAW-Unifor represents the entire Newfoundland and Labrador fishing industry — small-boat fishermen, offshore trawlermen, fish plant workers, and fish farmers — plus workers in other industries from hotels and on oil tankers to brewery workers and observers on seismic ships. 

The FFAW is involved directly in fisheries science and management, and acts as the gatekeeper to a long list of government-funded programs from test fisheries for cod to offshore crab surveys. The union controls entry into the industry through the Certification Board, and has the exclusive right to dockside monitoring — even as it fishes its own quotas of redfish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Bateman worries that nothing will come from his whistleblowing.

“If a Fishery Officer feels as strongly as I do to come forward publicly and nothing is done, then maybe there’s no hope.”

As for the way forward, Bateman also recommends an independent investigation, but one specifically into the relationship between the FFAW and DFO.

“Someone needs to take a good hard look at how the two of them get along, because the relationship isn’t working for the fishery, the communities, or for Newfoundland and Labrador.”


With files from Jenn Thornhill Verma. 

Ryan Cleary, the author, was a St. John's-based journalist for 18 years before serving a term as a Member of Parliament, following which he was elected President of FISH-NL, which made two unsuccessful attempts to break inshore harvesters away from the FFAW-Unifor.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

FFAW says it didn't have a snow crab licence, but that's what Fisheries and Oceans called it

Union made original request for crab quota on behalf of displaced trawlermen; second request made by private company led by union executive 

The trawler Katrina Charlene, a.k.a "the union boat."

The Katrina Charlene and the crab quota it was built to fish have been in the news for almost 20 years for their connection to the FFAW. The story made national news in February when a Fishery Officer alleged DFO kept quiet a conviction against the trawler, so as to not embarrass the union. Today, there’s news the quota sold recently for $1 million, a fraction of its estimated value, to Conne River First Nation. The boat and quota have been sold, but questions remain. What happened to the tens of millions of dollars generated by the crab quota? Fisherman’s Road lays out the story as it’s never been told.

Second of a three-part series.

By Ryan Cleary 

When Fishery Officers Jason Bateman and Ryan Legge inspected the Katrina Charlene in late June, 2011 at the wharf in St. Lawrence word spread immediately up the chain of command within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Managers themselves with the department's Enforcement and Conservation division specifically referred to the fishing vessel as “operating under the FFAW crab licence.”

On June, 27th 2011 — the day the skipper of the Katrina Charlene was charged with illegally fishing undersized snow crab — an email regarding the incident was sent by one of Bateman and Legge’s direct supervisors to Kevin Anderson, then director of Conservation and Protection for DFO’s NL region.

The subject of the e-mail — obtained through federal Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) legislation — was “undersized crab,” and it read:


A heads up that we are in the process of an inspection in St. Lawrence on the F/V Katrina Charlene operated under the FFAW crab licence. The vessel has approx (blanked out) on board and is currently running about (blanked out) percent undersize. Officers to continue with the inspection until offloaded to finalize the measurement.”

Another email noted some of the small crab “wasn’t even close to measure.”

The emails appear to underscore the sensitive nature of the decision to inspect/charge the Katrina Charlene. 

For more than a decade the FFAW has denied to various media outlets any connection to the Katrina Charlene or the snow crab licence the vessel fished.

In an FFAW-Unifor statement, the union said it “has no licenses, quotas or allocations, nor any financial interest in any licenses, quotas or allocations for any marine species. The FFAW does not, and has never, had ownership of any fishing vessel.”

The statement went on to say the crab quota and fishing vessel Katrina Charlene were owned by the Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc. (OFRH), a company that the union described as “a co-op of former cod trawlermen” that applied for the quota following the cod collapse of the early 1990s.

“The union had absolutely no involvement in the management of the OFRH, aside from being supportive of those harvesters that entered the crab fishery after the moratorium out of protection of their livelihoods.”

What’s clear from ATIP documents is that the original 1995 request for an offshore crab quota for displaced trawlermen was made directly by the FFAW.

By 1995, only 70 of the estimated 1,200 offshore trawlermen who had been displaced by the northern cod moratorium three years earlier were actively working in the fishery, and were hungry for work in the fishery. 

On June 12th of that year, Ches Cribb — then Vice-President of the FFAW’s deep-sea sector — wrote a letter to DFO’s NL region requesting that it give “priority access to the developing offshore crab and scallops fishery to deep-sea fishermen who have historically fished in that area.”

“These men could fish as a cooperative. I understand the DFO policy of licensing enterprises, however, I was told that DFO have (sic) granted allocations to associations in other Atlantic jurisdictions who don’t have licensed enterprises.”

The request, written on FFAW letterhead and obtained through ATIP, was denied by Jim Baird, DFO’s then chief of Resource Allocation and Licensing, who noted that crab and scallop management plans for the 1995 fishing season (including quota allocations) had already been announced. 

“Your request will be given consideration in the context of the ongoing licensing policy review, which will define access to the fishery in the future,” Baird wrote in a response letter to Cribb. 

Eight months later, on Feb. 27th, 1996, Cribb sent a formal proposal to then-federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister, the late Fred Mifflin, requesting access to the snow crab fishery outside 200 miles for displaced trawlermen. 

Cribb, however, didn’t make that second request in his position as FFAW deep-sea vice-president, but as president the private company, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc., whose post office box and telephone/fax numbers were the same as the FFAW’s. 

The company was formally incorporated the day after the letter was sent. 

In the proposal, Cribb highlighted that the company was “based on cooperative principles (One person, one vote).”

“We believe it is important that your government recognizes the historical attachment of these fishermen to the offshore and grant access to this developing fishery outside the 200 miles to the men who traditionally fished the area.”

In a business plan submitted with the 1996 proposal, the company reiterated its point that “priority should be given to those fishermen who have a traditional presence in the offshore fishery.” 

“These fishermen have now formed their own company — Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc. (OFRH), with the intent to take full advantage of any further fisheries development or diversification that may occur.”

The business plan outlined how the company had reached a deal with Fishery Products International (FPI) for two of its 100-foot draggers to catch the proposed crab quota, and the company requested a 500-tonne (1.1 million-pound) allocation.

The plan’s conclusion stated “For the past two years, the offshore fishermen of Newfoundland have made representation to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for licences to fish non-traditional species in their established fishing area. This proposal is the culmination of extensive discussions which focused on an opportunity for offshore fishermen to diversity into a snow crab fishery outside the 200-mile limit. With only 5% of the original 1,200 fishermen currently employed, we respectfully submit this proposal and ask the Department to honour this request.”

Three months later in June, 1996 DFO approved the company’s request for a snow crab allocation — setting aside 375 tonnes in fishing zone 3LMNO on the tail of the Grand Banks just outside Canada’s 200-mile limit. 

The crab allocation was increased to 500 tonnes the very next year, but the tonnage has varied from year to year depending on the health of the stock, and the overall quota. 

The fishing vessel Katrina Charlene was built in Glovertown in 2001 with a mortgage financed by Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc. and Fishery Products International.

In the late 1980s/early 1990s Terry Barnes worked as an offshore trawlerman aboard the MV Northern Kingfisher. The Harbour Graced-based, 190-foot trawler could carry 440 tonnes of frozen cod block a trip, but fishing ended with the 1992 northern cod moratorium.

The MV Northern Kingfisher 

Barnes and more than 20 other displaced trawlermen from the Kingfisher were also interested in acquiring an offshore snow crab quota outside Canada’s 200-mile limit.

To that end, he and several other crew representatives met in St. John’s with Max Short. In the mid-1990s Short, a former fishermen and union leader, worked for at least two federal ministers of Fisheries and Oceans from this province — including Mifflin and Brian Tobin. (Short’s son, Lot Short, would later skipper the Katrina Charlene.) 

From that meeting, Barnes said Short connected him with the FFAW’s Ches Cribb.

After Cribb’s company, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters’ Inc., was assigned a crab quota in 1996, Barnes said he and the other displaced trawlermen from the Harbour Grace area were told by Cribb and Short that they would get access to crab as the overall quota increased.

When the quota rose in 1997 and they still didn’t get access, Barnes said his group was then told they would get a 100-tonne crab quota if they lined up a trawler, which they did, but still no crab.

“I should have known that it was all just fucking lies,” said Barnes, who said he heard “through the grapevine” that their proposal for a crab quota wasn’t well received because the crew of the Kingfisher weren’t unionized. 

Barnes said he’s speaking up now because he spent six years fighting for a crab quota for the displaced trawlermen. 

Barnes said he went to the FFAW at the time and complained to then-president Earle McCurdy, and Reg Anstey, then-secretary-treasurer. 

Barnes didn’t know it then, but Anstey was also a director with the company, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters’ Inc. 

“They just told me that for years I had been misled,” said Barnes, 55, who today works for the Barry Group. “They should be strung up and hung. We spent years fighting for that crab, and they misled us. They basically laughed at us, and filled their own pockets.”

John Cabot also struggled in the early 1990s when he lost his cod quota. He and two other fishermen in the mid-short fleet (65-100 foot sector), lobbied hard for exploratory snow crab quotas in the offshore fishery.

Cabot said they didn’t get any support from the FFAW,  the local DFO, or the provincial government, but in 1995 their efforts were rewarded with a crab quota of 50 tonnes each.

In 1996 their quotas were increased to 75 tonnes, while Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc. got 375 tonnes. 

“Then the following year we got 100 tonnes, and the FFAW got 500 tonnes,” Cabot said. “That’s what you call a union working for their members.”


Part three tomorrow: Former trawlermen call for investigation.

With files by Jenn Thornhill Verma. 

Ryan Cleary, the author, was a St. John's-based journalist for 18 years before serving a term as a Member of Parliament, following which he was elected President of FISH-NL, which made two unsuccessful attempts to break inshore harvesters away from the FFAW-Unifor.