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Aquaculture Still Has a Long Way to Go

April 3, 2018

This article was originally published in the 2018 edition of the Union Forum, written by Greg Pretty, FFAW Industrial Director

Have you heard the new buzzword?


I’m familiar with the word “cluster” from my stint with the Militia. Combining “super” with “cluster” is not a good visual for any ex-army personnel.

But, nonetheless, we are now going down the road of supercluster in oil, gas, fisheries and aquaculture.

I hope it’s a better model than what we’ve become accustomed to. Just ask the workers on the Connaigre Peninsula.

Despite the tens of millions of dollars of infrastructure pumped into the industry over the last 25 years, aquaculture still only produces meagre, precarious employment for production workers in the industry. In other words… it’s tough to get a week’s work.

You’ll remember a number of years ago when the federal government of the day paid aquaculture companies to dump fish during the initial ISA scare.

Ten dollars a fish. Tens of millions to the companies and zip, zero to displaced workers. Nothing “super” about that, unless you own the company.

If politicians want, once again, to strengthen the science, marketing and viability of salmon aquaculture, they’d better start with listening to workers.

Having production workers as poor third cousins to giant multi-national companies has to stop. That antiquated model must change for both proposed and established operations.

If a supercluster can’t provide a minimum of 40 hours of work to productions workers, then the business model is seriously flawed and not worthy of federal and provincial attention.

They should be told to go back to the drawing board and start from the production floor up.

Our federal Members of Parliament praised the supercluster and its incredible ability to make our ocean industries first class. To that end, they have matchable funds available to the tune of about 900 million dollars.

So, let’s try and get it right for once. Here’s what should happen.

First of all, they would do well to revamp and revise the Employment Insurance program as it applies to all seasonal workers but particularly in industries such as aquaculture, where temperature/growth/harvesting delays cause huge disruptions in workers’ annual income.  Making the EI program meaningful and responsive to seasonal issues should be a mandate of elected politicians, the same ones promoting the supercluster. The program should meet the needs of workers as opposed to the current model where workers struggle in a system never intended for aquaculture.

In short, move the EI Program into the 21st Century.

Secondly, aquaculture companies planning to use their own money or relying on government funding should be required, by law, to establish a production plan, outlining job numbers and weeks of employment.

A security bond, required as a Condition of License should be established for each aquaculture enterprise. Based on the number of employees, the bond will be utilized by the Province and provided to workers adversely affected by the failure of the business, the closure of a plant or grow out or breach of contract between the companies and the Province or companies and workers. So far, the history of the industry has been when companies leave, workers are left with nothing. This model cannot be carried to superclusters.

Thirdly, borrowing from what we know of supercluster so far, workers would insist on a world class Occupational Health and Safety Research and Development Facility, funded by aquaculture companies and administered by workers and company representatives.

And lastly, it must include an Industry Environmental Protection/Monitoring Agency. This Agency would be funded by Industry and both levels of Government and could be a significant employer in the areas of aquaculture grow-out and production. Monitoring, surveillance and facilitating liaisons between aquaculture and wild fisheries.

And that would be Super. And meaningful. And World-Class.

Rural Newfoundland and Labrador deserves nothing less.