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FFAW-Unifor Meets With Federal Fisheries Minister In St. John's

January 16, 2024

ST. JOHN’S, NL – Yesterday afternoon, January 15th, 2024, FFAW-Unifor had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with federal fisheries Minister, the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, to discuss the Union’s top priorities with the person responsible for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). In attendance at the meeting were: Greg Pretty, President; Jason Spingle, Secretary-Treasurer; Tony Doyle, Inshore Vice-President; Nelson Bussey, Executive Board; Rendell Genge, Inshore Council; Glen Winslow, Inshore Council; Dr. Erin Carruthers, Senior Fisheries Scientist; Courtney Glode, Director of Public Affairs; and Courtney Langille, Communications & Government Relations Representative. Representing DFO were Minister Lebouthillier; Gabriel Bourget, Director of Communications; Benjamin Sparkes, Director of Operations; and William McGillivray, Regional Director General for NL.

Following introductions, the Minister opened the meeting with stating that she believes both parties are on the same page on the importance of the value of the fishery to communities and the economy.

At the top of the agenda was the need to protect the 115,000mt of Northern cod committed to inshore and Indigenous groups before allocations are given to offshore companies. The inshore fleet has the capacity to harvest this amount – the failure is on the processing side to match production capacity. Increasing the Northern cod harvest amount this season critical for rural sustainability and is desperately needed to diversify and increase incomes for seasonal workers. As it stands, the Northern cod stewardship fishery provided only a few days’ work for most in 2023.

The Minister expressed her willingness to ensure prosperity as well as succession planning for the cod fishery, and committed to securing dedicated time for further discussion – acknowledging that it is a complex issue with many considerations across stakeholder groups.

The next discussion was a follow-up on the proposal for the Gulf shrimp fleet who are facing certain, rapid extinction if they are not provided with urgent assistance from the federal government. As part of the Gulf Coalition, FFAW-Unifor met with Minister Lebouthillier in early December to present a buyback proposal for Gulf shrimp licenses in combination with a proposal for commercialization of the Unit 1 redfish fishery for this fleet. The reduction of license numbers combined with the transfer to a commercial redfish fishery will allow that fleet to survive into the future. Minister Lebouthillier stated that the shrimp industry is a priority for her, and she is undertaking an announcement by the end of January that will address the urgent need of the shrimp fleet. The Minister assured that she understands the importance of the resource and a just transition for regional economic stability, and decisions for Unit 1 redfish allocations will be a second phase that will involve further consultation.

Dr. Carruthers presented the results of the FFAW Experimental Redfish Fishery, made possible with funding from the Atlantic Fisheries Fund, which demonstrate inshore harvesters’ commitment to a sustainable emerging fishery. The Minister indicated that her department is committed to building a strong marketing piece to ensure that opportunities for redfish are in place in-step with commercialization.  

The Union then raised the need for small fisheries to continue in both the Gulf of St. Lawrence and 3Ps, for the purpose of maintaining critical data collection and the cultural connection to the cod fishery. The Minister agreed to review these requests.

Discussion moved to the need for reopening of the Atlantic Mackerel fishery, with FFAW again highlighting the important science data that such small fisheries provide to the assessment process. Increased sampling via a small fishery gives a far more accurate picture of size, distribution, spawning locations and more. The Minister acknowledged that there is a history of tension with DFO-Science, and she is considering enhanced collaboration with industry to build out better tools and processes that are necessary for more empirical and consistent data collection.

The Union then raised the need for DFO to increase enforcement and penalties of owner-operator and fleet separation policies. Enforcing the Fisheries Act and protecting independent harvesters from corporate control, particularly in this time of acute financial strain, is of paramount importance going forward. President Greg Pretty emphasized that by accepting financial assistance from corporations to avoid jeopardy, harvesters are giving up their rights as an independent, which is exploitative and counters the design of this federal policy. Continued inaction only serves to normalize this predatory behavior, removing more wealth from communities and reinforcing corporate control over the industry.

The next agenda item was the revision of 3L inshore/offshore snow crab precautionary approach (PA). FFAW-Unifor reiterated to the Minister that a solution for the 3L inshore/offshore snow crab assessment area must be reviewed prior to the stock assessment meetings. An enormous amount of work went into PA meetings with harvesters and FFAW staff contributing over 100-hours of work to the DFO-led science meetings. In the end, DFO arbitrarily removed an important paragraph from the PA, splitting the inshore and offshore assessment areas without explanation or scientific justification in spring of 2023. A great deal of contention exists with many still left wondering what next steps will be and how these steps are being determined. It was noted by Inshore Vice-President Tony Doyle that 3L is the only area that has an inshore/offshore division. With the fishery two-months away, clarity is needed as soon as possible.

Finally, the meeting concluded with discussion on the need to explore Shrimp Fishing Area 7 with a limited quota for assessment purposes. Harvesters who traditionally fish SFA 6 argue the quota may be moving further south, and since there is no other data other than DFO’s RV survey in that region, a small scientific quota would assist in determining whether the stock as migrated. Dr. Carruthers cited other FFAW-science programs, (notably the cod sentinel and post-season crab survey), and the Minister agreed that collaborative science is more compelling. Executive Board Member Nelson Bussey added that a small amount of quota can provide a huge amount of information, and this quota would be a significant opportunity to build out data that the department does not have yet.  

Minister Lebouthillier was extremely receptive to the FFAW’s mandate to protect coastal communities and increase economic opportunity for seasonal workers. Minister Lebouthillier is from Gaspe, on the coast of Quebec, and her constituency shares many of the same challenges and aspirations as Newfoundland and Labrador. As such, and based on the Minister’s comments yesterday, FFAW-Unifor is very hopeful that 2024 will present more opportunities for inshore fish harvesters and a more productive relationship with the federal department.