MEDIA RELEASE: Fish Harvester Unions Speak Out Against DFO Minister
February 17, 2022
Unions representing fish harvesters on both coasts of Canada are speaking out today against Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, for the single-minded method by which the portfolio is being managed. The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW-Unifor) of Newfoundland and Labrador and the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union (UFAWU-Unifor) of British Columbia are calling on Minister Murray to take into consideration the dire social and economic impacts her decisions are having on those whose livelihoods rely on the fishery.
Recent comments made by Minister Murray highlight the minister’s singular focus on ocean conservation and lack of regard for the fishing industry and the communities that rely on it.
“We understand that there is a learning curve when an MP is given a new portfolio,” says Keith Sullivan, FFAW-Unifor President. “However, the Minister’s recent comments are not those of someone who is misinformed. These are statements that set forth a vision where the fishery has a reduced importance and where harvesters are being asked to bear the brunt of the sacrifice for a climate change issue in which they did little to contribute.”
At the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation annual meeting, Minister Murray put forward her ideas and vision for the fishery on the east coast of Canada and stated clearly that her goal is to leave as many fish in the water as possible and to grow as much vegetation in the water as possible so that the Atlantic Ocean can better absorb carbon to combat climate change. The Minister also stated that fish harvesters will have to accept this sacrifice as part of Canada’s commitment to fight climate change, noting that given technological advancements, harvesters could change career paths and work remotely from their communities.
“Suggesting that small-scale owner-operator harvesters who fish sustainably and contribute economically, socially and culturally to our regions should be the ones to find a new career path is frankly shocking and emphasizes the Minister’s ignorance or flippancy towards what the fishery means to our communities,” Sullivan says.
In 2021, harvesters on the west coast of Canada experienced the impact of Minister Murray’s attitude toward commercial fisheries when a plan was announced that would see most commercial fisheries for Pacific herring closed. This decision followed the 2021 closure of 79 salmon fisheries as part of the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI).
“These closures have not been based on industry consultation or science,” says James Lawson, President of UFAWU-Unifor. “Fisheries and fish harvesters are an integral part of Canada’s public food source and food security system. The Minister’s blanket closure decisions are clearly politically motivated and sidestep fisheries data and the advice of local DFO managers altogether — sacrificing our food security for politics.”
While the fisheries on each of Canada’s coasts face unique obstacles, harvesters and Union leadership on both coasts have witnessed a common, troubling theme emerge — politics over fishermen, fishing communities, and public food security.
“Minister Murray and DFO must take a conscientious approach to decision making. An approach that ensures those affected are considered by those making decisions,” Lawson says. “The government is dismantling commercial fisheries under the banner of future planning and conservation, despite our fisheries already being managed by a precautionary, conservationist approach. In many cases the data and science do not substantiate claims that stock abundance is at issue, such as with herring. This dismantling is fracturing fisheries infrastructure coastwide, and harvesters are being separated from the ability to earn a viable living in fishing. There will not be a fleet to harvest tomorrow’s fish if this dismantling is not stopped.”
“What Minister Murray must acknowledge is that she is the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. Her decisions have massive impacts on the well-being of tens of thousands of Canadians,” Sullivan continues. “Harvesters and others who are dependent on the fishery cannot simply be dismissed. The Minister has an obligation to ensure that fish harvesters, plant workers, truck drivers, offloaders, and others can succeed in the fishery. That is not a message that the Minister has conveyed thus far.”
“If I was to give the Minister one piece of advice, it would be to book two weeks in her calendar to visit these coastal communities and to understand how integral the fishery is to their history and future. If Minister Murray witnessed the hard work, sacrifice, risk, and determination of those in the fishing industry, and saw for herself how important the fishery is to our rural economy, I doubt she would make the same statements again. Our harvesters feed the world and they deserve more consideration than what they are currently receiving,” Sullivan concludes.
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