June 20, 2022
As the 4th World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress kicks off today in St. John’s, FFAW-Unifor is calling on the federal government to renew their commitment to strengthening and protecting the owner-operator inshore fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Over 4000 independent enterprise owners and 6000 crew members live and work all around Newfoundland and Labrador. These small, family-run businesses contribute to the sustainability of this province and the many spinoff jobs the industry offers,” says FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan. “If strengthened and protected, the historical Newfoundland and Labrador small-scale fishery has the potential to provide economic sustainability to our province for generations to come,” Sullivan says.
Fleet separation policy means that processing companies themselves cannot own fishing licenses -they must be owned by the fish harvesters who actively live and work in their communities. This policy ideally puts fish harvesters and processors on more equal ground; however, companies constantly seek to undermine the policy through “controlling agreements.”
“Not content with harvesters as equals in the fishing business, processing companies created agreements that placed total control of licenses in the hands of the company while the name attached to the license remained with the fish harvester. The agreements became known as “controlling agreements”, as they vested in the corporation total control of the license: when it would be fished, in which boat, and with what crew. The corporation even retained control over the license when the license holder died,” explains Sullivan.
Over time, companies bought up more and more licenses through controlling agreements. This has led to inflated license prices, undermined collective bargaining and has financially inhibited young harvesters from entering the fishery. For decades, DFO turned a blind eye to controlling agreements, but after a concerted effort by inshore harvester associations an enforcement mechanism was put in place.
Officially known as “Regulations Amending the Atlantic Fisheries Regulations, 1985,” Owner-Operator and Fleet Separation became federal regulations as of April 1, 2021. The Union representing fish harvesters in the province says DFO must do more to get rid of controlling agreements once and for all.
“The event this week brings together fish harvesters, industry, government, and academia interested in fisheries and ocean sustainability in the North America region with the overall theme of ‘Getting it Right.’ There is certainly much to work to do in order to ‘get it right’ in the Newfoundland and Labrador commercial fishery, but one important step is ensuring that the independent inshore fishery is protected through robust, enforced regulation,” Sullivan concludes.
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