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.

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