November 21 is World Fisheries Day. It is a day to recognize what the fishery means to our communities, our province, our country and the world.
The fishery is what brought many settlers to Newfoundland and Labrador, and over 500 years later it remains the industry that sustains much of our rural and coastal communities. Tens of thousands of people are directly and indirectly employed by the fishing industry in our province.
In rural Newfoundland and Labrador, the crew member, the schoolteacher and the nurse owe their livelihood – and continued ability to earn a living – to the fishery. We want sustainable fisheries because we know the future of our rural communities depends on it. Every day, we fight for the fishery, for our children and for our grandchildren.
Nearly 30 years have passed since the cod moratorium and the inshore fishing industry has evolved significantly in its wake. The collapse of northern cod was a devastating blow to our province and to thousands of families like mine. There is no plant worker or fish harvester in Newfoundland and Labrador who wants to relive the challenges and devastation of that era, and there is certainly no harvester who wants to take the last fish from the ocean.
The fishery today is very different from the fishery of the past. It’s now an industry worth over $1 billion to our province’s economy each year. Professional fish harvesters have made significant investments in their enterprises. They have diversified, they have increased their focus on quality, and they continue to be proud stewards of the ocean, devoting their time, knowledge and experience to fisheries science.
The current inshore fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador is providing harvesters with the highest incomes they’ve ever seen. Fish harvesters are now the rural middle class, with purchasing power to support young families, new homes, vehicles, and local economic development. Because of the hard work of hundreds of volunteers around the province negotiating on behalf of their peers, fish prices have never been higher.
But World Fisheries Day is not just about celebrating the accomplishments of the fishing industry, it is also about highlighting the challenges for a sustainable future. In Newfoundland and Labrador, our challenges are significant, but so is the resiliency of harvesters, plant workers, and communities.
The fishery, like the entire economic structure of Newfoundland and Labrador, is going through a transition. At the same time, a generational shift is happening. In order to ensure our industry continues to thrive for generations to come, we must listen to young voices in our industry who will help us as we navigate our way through future challenges. Change can be difficult, but it also presents new opportunities and the chance to shape the future.
Time and time again, FFAW members have united under the common goal of protecting and improving the inshore fishery, and we have made significant achievements by working together. But we can’t stand alone. It will take all of us – fish harvesters, plant workers, scientists, small business owners, teachers, nurses, political leaders, service sector workers – working together to support good jobs and vibrant, sustainable coastal communities today and for generations to come.
Keith Sullivan, FFAW-Unifor President