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FFAW Brings NL Fishery Issues to Ottawa

June 13, 2023

Throughout last week, FFAW-Unifor attended a series of meetings in Ottawa with several government officials in federal government to advance the Emergency Economic Support Proposal (ESP) for All Workers Impacted by the 2023 NL Snow Crab Crisis. Meetings took place with Minister Gudie Hutchings, Minister Seamus O’Regan, MP Lisa Marie Barron, MP Clifford Small; and from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO): Minister Joyce Murray; Adam Burns, Director General, Fisheries Resource Management; Neil MacIsaac, Acting Chief of Staff and Director of Fisheries Management; and Liam MacKinnon, Regional Advisor.

All meetings centered on implementation of key components of the ESP with expanded discussion on feasibility of actualizing relief for hours-based EI claims and income relief for harvesters. It was emphasized that the circumstances surrounding the market volatility and low-price to harvesters are symptoms of global circumstances, namely recessionary pressures from COVID-19 and the Russia/Ukraine conflict’s impact on Asian seafood markets – all complexities that influenced an unpredictable drop in 70% of income for these workers. As such, investment from federal government is crucial for preserving established markets and Canada’s position on the world’s stage as a top exporter of quality wild seafood.

The jeopardy that seasonal fishery workers face in 2023, and the ripple effect it will have in coastal communities that depend on the snow crab resource for social and economic infrastructure, was widely recognized in all meetings. However, the realities of the administrative limitations of the EI system and exclusivity of the situation from a federal perspective were also recognized. Consensus throughout the meetings was that lowering of qualifying thresholds for hours-based and earnings-based claims, as well as delaying full CEBA repayment without penalty beyond December 31, 2023, are the most likely to be considered for relief at a federal level. It was recommended that the Union coordinate its request on those proponents to be more effective. Commitments were expressed by MP Barron and MP Small for letters of support for the ESP to respective government departments – namely the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Finance, and Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities. No clear commitment was made by the federal government on the Union’s ESP, and the Union is requesting that members continue to call their MP’s to emphasize the importance of this proposed support. The FFAW will continue to lobby federally and provincially for sector specific support, as has been provided to other important sectors during periods of sharp and unforeseen downturn.

In connection with snow crab, ongoing issues with trip limits imposed unfairly across fleets by processors was mentioned, and this segued to the prevalence of controlling agreements. FFAW relayed to DFO that many small boats are being deliberately paced, while larger boats have been unfairly prioritized and landed their quota. Senior staff at DFO affirmed that, as per the IFMP, the trip/weekly limit requirement is managed as a condition of licence and changes to these measures will only be considered if there is written agreement to make these changes from both sectors of the industry.

On tolerance, the Union raised the issue of the tolerance in the snow crab fishery, and the resulting implication on sustainability of the resource. Since 1998, the 20% tolerance rule for under 4” snow crab has been in effect. This management measure is part of the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) and was implemented as a sustainability measure to prevent high grading and thereby protect the health of the stock. FFAW is awaiting a formal response from DFO and on a provincial level is proceeding with grievances for all harvesters who experienced deductions.

Further, FFAW expressed concerns for restraints in participation in this years Snow Crab Survey given the delay and financial necessity to prioritize landing of quota. Minister Murray acknowledged that there is less time to land as well as associated financial pressures, and thoroughly agreed that data from the survey is undisputedly valuable to TAC, other critical management decisions, and the continuity of that data is of utmost importance. DFO committed to establishing an immediate dialogue with FFAW to ensure this data is captured with consideration for monetary incentives for harvesters that will have vessels available. Conditions for the snow crab survey are the same as an extra IQ, and FFAW committed to promptly communicating vessel length and availability to DFO.

With the financial vulnerability of many enterprises this year, particularly those that entered the industry recently and have a larger on-demand investment, the Union expressed great concern for the predatory behavior of processors. By extended controlling agreements as reprieve from potential bankruptcy, the pressures of 2023 for harvesters greatly intensifies the risk of the corporate processing sector gaining further control of the industry and supply chain by acting as a lending agent.

Senior Staff at DFO acknowledged the warning and encouraged FFAW to compile and send any and all copies of controlling agreements and related documents that have been evidenced by members. They indicated that enforcements within DFO are tasked with helping harvesters to exit such agreements and offered full cooperation to investigate.

Other matters of importance that were brought into view during the meetings in Ottawa were: Northern Cod; Capelin; Gulf Shrimp; and Unit 1 Redfish. FFAW requested an increase to the Maximum Allowable Harvest (MAH) for northern cod, indicating that the shock to the snow crab industry in that area is placing a great deal of pressure on other fisheries. The Minister has not yet seen the dockets on northern cod this year and could not share any insights but did state that she understands the overlap given the difficult season for snow crab.

On capelin, it was brought forward that the 2J3KL and 3Ps management plans were announced in April last year, and it is now June, and we continue to wait on 2J3KL. FFAW explained that the science assessment was positive this year and the larval index was the highest observed in almost a decade – given these indicators, the management plan is much anticipated. Minister Murray assured that the management plan was forthcoming and would consider announcing an interim TAC pending comfort levels and confirmation of timeline within the Department.

Discussions on Gulf shrimp and unit 1 redfish were interconnected, as redfish were pointed out to have potential to be a just transition for the 4R Gulf shrimp fleet as that fishery faces the reality of closure/unviability in near future. Senior staff at DFO indicated that there is a new science model for Gulf shrimp that will be in place for next year, and hopefully this will show potential for rebound of the stock and future stability. In the meantime, DFO confirmed that the license fees no longer match the landed value, and they will adjust accordingly. Prospective license buy-outs would be a future discussion pending developments in the Gulf shrimp fishery. FFAW stated that the future of the plants and workers in the region that rely on shrimp must also be included in that conversation.

FFAW explained that the 4R fleet have the capacity to scale up the emerging redfish fishery effectively, and launch with sustainable, innovative harvesting practices that have been established in the Experimental Redfish Fishery. The Minister indicated that she was not rushing her decision on unit 1 redfish, and did not provide an anticipated timeline.