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FFAW President Speaks to Senate Committee on Fisheries

April 4, 2019

Keith Sullivan, President, FFAW-Unifor
Remarks to the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans

April 4, 2019

Good morning. I represent nearly 15,000 women and men working throughout Newfoundland and Labrador who are members of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union. Many of our members are employed in the fishing industry – including approximately 10,000 fish harvesters.

FFAW members live in nearly 500 communities in every region of our province. Many of these communities have existed for centuries and almost all were founded because of the fishery. The inshore fishery has been the primary economic driver of coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador and has contributed to building a strong middle class.

Today my comments will focus on the fisheries management provisions within Bill C-68, specifically, Section 2.5’s reference to consideration for “social, economic and cultural factors in the management of fisheries,” and “the preservation and promotion of the independence of license holders in commercial inshore fisheries.”

Our fisheries are experiencing dramatic changes resulting from shifts in the ecosystem. Shellfish stocks, that were once abundant off our coast, are declining while groundfish like the iconic northern cod are returning. What’s clear is that during this time of transition, we cannot afford to make fisheries decisions in silos, nor can we afford to ignore the wealth of knowledge offered by the people who spend their days aboard a fishing boat.

New considerations for decision making within the Fisheries Act that incorporate community knowledge, social, economic and cultural factors as well as the preservation and promotion of the independence of inshore license holders will help to ensure our fisheries are managed with people and communities in mind.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the most important economic development policies for Newfoundland and Labrador’s coastal communities are fleet separation and owner-operator. These policies have kept a viable inshore fleet in place and have injected significant wealth into every corner of the province.

While inshore fish harvesters, their families and their communities recognize the importance of these policies, there are some who do not see the value of safeguarding the independent owner-operator fishery.

Over the past twenty years there has been a sustained attack on the owner operator and fleet separation policies, primarily by processing companies and foreign investors, that’s had serious economic repercussions for the fishery and coastal regions. As a result, corporations have gained control of licenses and are siphoning the wealth and benefits of the inshore fisheries from our coastal communities. Of particular concern is the impact that controlling and trust agreements have had on the cost of fishing licenses, which has made it extremely difficult for young people to enter the fishery.

I know this committee will hear from many witnesses as you study this legislation but if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share a story that will underscore how important Bill C-68 is to young fish harvesters.

Stephanie is a fish harvester from Port de Grave, who I met at our most recent union convention. Her father, Wayne, was an active member of our union and over the years Wayne and I had many lively debates about different issues. One thing we always agreed on was the need to get young people into the fishery. Wayne did just that, by encouraging his daughter to go fishing. Like many young people who grew up during the moratorium, at first Stephanie chose another career path instead of the fishery. After 13 years working in a job she was not passionate about, and with the encouragement of her family, she decided to give fishing a go. She started out at cod with her father and now she also fishes crab and capelin. Despite coming from a fishing family, it’s been an uphill battle for Stephanie who’s trying to run her own enterprise to support her young family — her community.

That’s why we need strong legal protections in C-68 to prevent controlling agreements. Senators, you have the opportunity to ensure young fish harvesters aren’t pushed out of the industry just because they can’t compete with a Bay Street investor who’s willing to pay double the price for a license. C-68 will help with that.

Stephanie’s story is similar to many other young harvesters who are passionate about fishing but don’t have access to capital that will help them outbid large processing companies and foreign investors. The problem is that fleet separation and owner operator policies have been remarkably easy to circumvent in recent years.  Legal teams for companies have developed “trust” or controlling agreements where the license holder must transfer the beneficial interest (i.e. the use) of a license to another party that is not legally entitled to hold one. In such transactions, control over how a license is used, sold or managed is also granted to a third party that is not entitled to hold a license. This is why enforcement powers are critical to ensuring the owner-operator fleet is protected.

The independent owner-operator fishery is a strategic asset to Canada’s economy. A policy alone is insufficient to safeguard the social, economic and cultural future of coastal communities. With the force of law, these policies will become more robust, with legal consequences for corporations holding fish harvesters in controlling agreements.

Protecting the independent owner operator fishery is one of the best ways to build a strong middle class, create jobs and strengthen the economy in coastal communities like Calvert, where I grew up, and hundreds of other communities in Newfoundland and Labrador and across Atlantic Canada.

The inshore fishery can play a major role in building an economy in coastal communities where no one is left behind and it is the firm belief of FFAW and its members that Bill C-68 is critically important to the future of our industry.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak this morning and I look forward to your questions.