MEDIA RELEASE: DFO Policy Puts Harvester Lives and Livelihoods at Risk | FFAW-Unifor | Fish Food & Allied Workers Union

MEDIA RELEASE: DFO Policy Puts Harvester Lives and Livelihoods at Risk

November 18, 2021

ST. JOHN’S, NL – A new ‘weak rope’ gear policy being implemented in Newfoundland and Labrador will have negative implications for fish harvesters in this province – including risks to safety, an unknown cost burden, and significant potential for increased environmental waste. FFAW-Unifor is calling on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to listen to the concerns of fish harvesters to understand why this policy should not be implemented in this province.

Weak rope measures are being implemented with the goal of preventing right whale entanglements. While these entanglements may be a concern for fisheries in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, there has never been a right whale entanglement in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery. Most concerning, DFO has provided no evidence that this gear is safe or effective for the fishery in this province.

“DFO themselves have acknowledged that right whales are not an issue in Newfoundland and Labrador waters, and yet they are unilaterally imposing this policy on our province despite the glaring concerns they have failed to address,” says Robert Keenan, FFAW-Unifor Secretary Treasurer.

There is no evidence that weak rope can serve as effective fishing equipment and will not break apart under the normal strain of a catch combined with the tide, potentially adding more environmental waste through ‘ghost gear’.

“We have repeatedly asked DFO for proof. Can harvesters in NL use this gear to fish effectively? Have there been tests done in the Maritimes? What would the cost be? Why is this necessary for NL? Not a single one of these questions has been answered by the Department,” Keenan says.

Currently, weak rope will be required for the vast majority of gear starting in January 2023. The only consultations scheduled with harvesters are in late November and early December where three sessions are scheduled to provide information to and receive feedback from more than 3000 fishing enterprises in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Fish harvesters in this province deserve a better consultation process than a few zoom meetings. Despite a nearly fully vaccinated province and the ability to implement safe procedures for in-person meetings, DFO is still using COVID-19 as an excuse to completely abandon the consultation process,” Keenan says.

Harvesters in NL have already undertaken gear modifications to mark rope to prevent entanglements. Additional modifications for weak links will be a significant cost burden to the owner-operator fish harvester. Not only do fish harvesters incur the loss of gear, they must also incur the expense of weak link mechanisms for all fleets of gear, and potentially each and every lobster trap.

“The death of one right whale could have a disastrous impact on seafood exports to the United States. Fish harvesters know this and will gladly take all reasonable steps to protect the species and their livelihoods but implementing this policy without any due diligence is entirely unreasonable,” concludes Keenan.

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For media inquiries, please contact Courtney Glode at [email protected] or call/text 709-743-4445.

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