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.


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