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Letter to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Calling for Action to Address Challenges in 3Ps

July 21, 2016

June 24, 2016

Honourable Dominic LeBlanc
Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada
200 Kent Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re:    Proposal to Address Challenges Facing 3Ps Fish Harvesters

Dear Minister LeBlanc:

Fish harvesters in 3Ps are facing economic conditions that rival the cod moratorium. In fact, it would be fair to say the situation is even worse due to the amount of investment and debt in the fishery in this region of Newfoundland and Labrador. The decline of a large variety of commercially valuable fish resources in this area is unprecedented.

In light of the situation in 3Ps, FFAW-Unifor is urgently requesting that steps be taken to relieve the severe financial strains harvesters are currently experiencing. A combination of short-term and long-term measures are needed in the region to ensure stable and sustainable futures for harvesters and their communities. These measures should include an Enterprise Buyout Program and increased access to abundant resources adjacent to harvesters, namely Atlantic Halibut.

Harvesters in 3Ps have access to less than 3% of the adjacent halibut resource. According to recorded landings, harvesters in the area historically had approximately 6% of landings. As a short-term solution, this unfair sharing of the resource must be adjusted immediately.

In the long term, an Enterprise Buyout Program would provide a desperately needed tool for financial viability for harvesters. A proposal for such a program will be submitted by FFAW-Unifor in the coming days. The program would compensate harvesters for agreeing to remove their licenses from the 3PS fishery. Reducing the number of active harvesters in 3Ps would allow sustainable quota levels to be shared amongst fewer participants and would provide greater opportunity for economic viability in the area.

There are 597 snow crab licenses in 3Ps. Harvesters also fish cod, lobster, whelk, lumpfish and halibut. Including crew members, there are between approximately 1500 harvesters in the region.

Harvesters in 3Ps rely heavily on snow crab. The snow crab fishery in the region has been in serious decline in recent years with quotas falling from 6,467 MT in 2012 (96% landed) to 4,299 MT in 2015 (only 59% landed). So far in 2016, harvesters are reporting extremely poor catches. This is the fishery that has sustained harvesters in recent years and now it has collapsed.

Historically, harvesters in this region have also depended on cod. However, in recent years the cod stock is not seen as being healthy by local harvesters. In 2010-11, inshore harvesters caught 69% of their quota and despite the desperate need for income in 2014-15, only 47.8% was landed. Inshore owner-operator harvesters have voiced their concern on the concentrated fishing of the vulnerable spawning and pre-spawning aggregations of cod. Regardless, cod will offer harvesters limited ability to earn income in 2016.

In recent years harvesters prospered from whelk fisheries, but the availability of this resource has declined, going from a catch of 4,636 MT in 2012 to 2,294 in 2015 (just 46% of the available quota). This stock, like other fisheries, has progressively become more expensive to harvest due to the increased effort and costs involved.

None of the noted difficulties are a reflection of a lack of effort on the part of harvesters. The problem is that a significant amount of effort is being expended, as well as the significant corresponding costs, for too little product.

There are no easy solutions to the issues facing the owner-operator harvesters in 3Ps but there are a suite of options to consider. In conjunction with an Enterprise Buyout Program, good fisheries management is important to ensure long term sustainability. This would include allowing harvesters in 3Ps to have fair access to the Atlantic Halibut resource. Finally, we must continue to look at the availability of growing and emerging fisheries that would benefit the area. All options must be pursued with urgency.

We look forward to meeting at your earliest convenience to discuss our proposal.

Yours truly,

Keith Sullivan
President, FFAW-Unifor

Cc: The Honourable Judy Foote, Minister of Public Services and Procurement
Scott Simms, Member of Parliament for Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame
Ken McDonald, Member of Parliament for Avalon