Tuesday, September 27, 2016

‘Compelling’ evidence Canadian fish management ‘dysfunctional’

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met in St. John’s Monday as part of its study on northern cod. But the same committee ALSO did a report on northern cod 11 years ago.  Find the report here. Nothing had changed since then.

Direct quotes from the 2005 report:

“The Committee has the clear impression that, from DFO’s perspective, cod is no longer a priority. In other words, since the cod have almost vanished, there is no point in studying them anymore.”
•••
“We believe that the root cause lies in a lack of vision and long-term planning. Not dealing with foreign overfishing, re-opening of the inshore fishery in 1998 at unsustainable levels, and not recognizing sooner the size of the seal herds each contributed to the lack of recovery of the northern cod stocks.”
•••
“While DFO, as the body responsible for managing the fisheries, had the critical role in this disaster, it was often under pressure from fishermen, coastal communities, unions, and politicians to provide opportunities.”
•••
“In the decades prior to the 1960s, annual catches ranged between 200,000 and 300,000 tonnes. The harvest, mainly by non-Canadian fishing fleets, increased dramatically to over 800,000 tonnes in 1968, but then declined until the mid1970s. Between 1960 and 1975, 8 million tonnes of northern cod was caught, most of it by an estimated 200 factory freezer trawlers operating on the Grand Banks. By comparison, this is the same amount that was caught in the whole of the period between 1500 and 1750.”
•••
“We believe that there is compelling evidence that the Canadian fisheries management system is dysfunctional, and that the time is now right to seriously consider a fundamental reform.”

'Crisis of confidence" in NL fishery

The following is my address on Monday, Sept. 26th, to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries in Oceans, which met in St. John’s to discuss northern cod. 

Good afternoon,

Mr. Chair, Members of Parliament, welcome to St. John’s. 

My name is Ryan Cleary, and I’m the former Member of Parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl. I served in the last Parliament (2011-2015). 

And I spent most of that time on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. 

We did a fair number of studies, but the committee only travelled once — and that wasn’t to any province in Canada — but to Washington, D.C. as part of a study on closed-containment aquaculture. 

You can study a problem to death in an Ottawa boardroom, but you can’t underestimate the impact of being on the ground. 

So when I say welcome, I sincerely mean it — hope to see you here often in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. (MP Scott) Simms (chair of the committee). 

I speak to you today first as a former journalist. 

I covered the northern cod moratorium on July 2, 1992 when John Crosbie shut down the fishery. 

I worked for the local daily newspaper — The Telegram, and the front-page headline of the next day’s paper read: “No fishing, 19,000 out of work in northern cod ban.”

That was 19,000 direct jobs on the water and in fish plants. 

The number didn’t include spinoff jobs. 

The total number of job losses as a result of the northern cod moratorium was estimated at closer to 30,000. 

And that was compared to the Dust Bowl that swept thousands of Prairie farmers from the land in the 1930s. 

The moratorium was initially supposed to last 2 years.

It’s been 24 years, as you know, and Newfoundland and Labrador has lost an estimated 80,000 people. 

One of the biggest concerns back then was what was termed “transfer of effort.” 

It was feared that the intense fishing effort that had been directed at northern cod would be redirected to the next species, and then the next species, and then the next … 

Until there was nothing left in the North Atlantic. 

Thankfully, that hasn’t happened, as you know, Mr. Chair, although the health of other stocks like shrimp and crab and caplin has fluctuated wildly. 

I also speak to you today not as one of the leaders of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador — or FISH-NL 

FISH-NL has been described as a breakaway union. 

Most fishery workers in Newfoundland and Labrador — including fish harvesters, fish plant workers, and offshore trawler men — are currently represented by the FFAW, or Fish, Food and Allied Workers union. 

That’s a conflict of interest. 

Fish harvesters specifically want to break away and from their own standalone union — FISH-NL — which will play out over the coming months. 

Part of the reason fish harvesters are ready to revolt in this province is consultation — the fact that there isn’t any. 

This year’s northern cod stewardship fishery is a prime example. 

The absence of consultation has resulted in a northern cod fishery that puts the lives of harvesters at greater risk, and has led to the dumping of untold thousands of pounds of northern cod. 

FISH-NL has held meetings around Newfoundland — involving hundreds of fishermen — and I’ve yet to meet a single harvester who said they were consulted about this year’s northern cod fishery. 

Fish harvesters say the one-year management plan has resulted in thousands of pounds of northern cod being left dead in the water. 

This year’s fishery eliminated the Individual Quota or IQ system in favour of an extended season with weekly landing limits. 

Harvesters could take 2,000 pounds of cod from mid-August to early September, and 3,000 pounds a week from early September to the end of the season. 

Harvesters all too often reach their weekly quota when they STILL have gill nets in the water. 

As a result, when all the nets are hauled thousands of pounds of dead cod are left in the oceans so harvesters don’t exceed their quota — so they’re not charged in court. 

Fish harvesters have a theory that the cod fishery was stretched out over more weeks so the FFAW could collect more union does — harvesters see no other logical explanation. 

Safety is also an issue because — with only 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of fish to take a week — it doesn’t make economic sense to take a longliner (a bigger boat) out to catch cod.

Not when you pay your expenses and your crew.  

Harvesters say they’re being forced into smaller boats — which obviously aren’t as safe. 

Earlier this month four fishermen from Shea Heights, a neighbourhood here here in St. John’s, were lost in a 22-foot open boat not far from St. John’s harbour.  

I was also eager to appear before this committee to alert federal politicians and the Government of Canada to a growing crisis of confidence in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery, involving the FFAW. 

On one hand, the FFAW is responsible for holding the Government of Canada to account for day-today management decisions and overall fishery policy. 

On the other hand, the FFAW takes in untold millions of dollars a year from various federal government departments and agencies to administer various fisheries programs. 

There’s a conflict of interest to begin with in terms of the FFAW representing fish plant workers and fish harvesters. 

But the added element of conflict of interest involving government funds undermines faith in the industry .

Normal checks and balances that accompany a regular union-management dynamic can be compromised when funds change hands between the two, negatively impacting the entire fishing industry.

The federal Auditor General was asked to investigate federal funds directed to the FFAW, but his office declined, referring the concerns to DFO auditors. 

I heard earlier today presentations by the president of the FFAW and the provincial Minister of Fisheries. 

Both the union and provincial Fisheries department have outlined the science roles they’ve taken on — because the federal government hasn’t been doing the work. 

But it’s the Government of Canada that’s responsible for the harvesting sector, for proper management. 

The lines between the function of the fishermen’s union, the federal government, and the provincial government have been blurred. 

We need to bring those roles back into focus. 

To quote a fishermen in an article today, “The union now is DFO to us.”


The Government of Canada must be made to live up to its responsibilities to manage fish stocks — that means good science, that means proper enforcement, and a sound management structure. 

Twenty-four years after the northern cod moratorium was handed down and we’re only now — as there’s sign that cod are coming back — talking about a plan to move forward. 

We should be ashamed. 



















Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Yesterday's union: 2008 Independent column shows problems with the FFAW are nothing new



As editor-in-chief of The Independent, a province-wide weekly newspaper (2003-2008), I wrote a weekly column called Fighting Newfoundlander. The following piece was published in the March 7th, 2008 edition. 


Yesterday's union 

When you throw a swing you’ve got to expect a shot back across the bow, but I was mildly surprised with the letter to the editor this week from the fishermen’s union. 

Part of me thought the union was dead in the water, although there’s apparently life in the cold fish yet. That said, the mild flapping of union tails could be mistaken for the final jerk and twitch of a drawn-out death throe. 

Not the union’s passing, mind you.

I’m talking about outport genocide. 

The issue has to do with stamp factories. 

To simplify, last week’s column, Get a real job, took the union to task for trying to create a stamp factory on Newfoundland’s south coast.

I say stamp factory because New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture proposed to create 200 full-time jobs but, following a request by the Town of Harbour Breton and the union, agreed to potentially create upwards of 300 jobs through job sharing so more people will qualify for EI benefits.

Earle McCurdy, head of the fishermen’s union, didn’t have a problem with last week’s front-page story by Ivan Morgan that outlined just those facts.

His problem was with me, and my “typical right-wing, anti-worker bombast” (see letter below this week’s cartoon). 

Why is it that anyone who whispers a hit of dissent against the all-powerful fishermen’s union, with its leaders for life, till death do they ultimately part, is automatically branded as ring wing?

If right wing means pro-Newfoundland and Labrador, then string me up. If right wing means trying to break the cycle of EI dependence, then call me a bad Samaritan and burn me in newspaper effigy. 

I say the union should be charged in court for failing to act as the fishery drowns at its feet. No doubt, fishermen and plant workers have had a hard go of it for years, but the answer to turning the industry around is not more of the same EI dependence.

Which is the tired old union’s only answer. 

It’s sacrilegious to talk poorly about the fishery, EI or the union. McCurdy calls my attack “offensive and mean spirited.” I say the union should be held accountable as much as anyone given the fact that the fishery remains on government life support generation after generation.

In his letter, McCurdy says the lives of plant workers are so bad that many of them suffer from chronic pain, which they temper with painkillers.

I say the union itself is on Prosac. 

At the very least, it’s been so reliant on federal programs over the years that it’s become fat, lazy and apathetic. 

When was the last time there was a fisherman’s rally, one in which the yellow buses and box lunches weren’t provided for everyone who showed up.

McCurdy attempts to put me in my place for accusing the union of having it own shrimp and crab quotas and boat to fish them. “Our union does not own a shrimp boat, a crab boat, a shrimp quota, or a crab quota,” he writes, “nor do we own in whole or in part any organization that has such assets.”

It was in May 2004 that The Independent wrote a business story on the so-called “union boat,” as it was known to fishermen on the wharves. The Katrina Charlene was built in the late 1990s by the Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc., a company with close links to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union.

At the time the story was written, Ches Cribb, CEO of the company, which was known in fishing circles as the offshore trawlermen’s co-op, was also vice-president of the FFAW’s deep sea division.

At least two other company directors were also FFAW executives. All directors and crew were union members.

The company was formed in 1996 to retrain deep-sea trawlermen displaced by the collapse of the cod fisheries in the early 1990s. 

A spokesman for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans told the paper in 2004 that the Katrina Charlene was granted an exploratory crab quota of approximately 535 tonnes in 1996. The quota was issued every year after up to 2004.

Cribb wouldn’t tell The Independent who financed the boat, although he did say it wasn’t the FFAW. He said the main purpose of the boat was to train and educate trawlermen. 

At least one fishermen back in the day questioned why the union boat was allowed to compete with boats owned by the membership. “What are they training fishermen for if there’s no fish?” the fishermen asked. “There’s no fishery … are the going to send them to Portugal to fish?”

McCurdy couldn’t be reached for comment at the time. 

He was busy this week writing letters. 

For some reason the union feels its above investigation. It is not. Has McCurdy been in power so long that he thinks he’s God’s gift to fish? Well let me tell you sir, the fish are dead at your feet.

McCurdy, who hails from the old Evening Telegram, as does at least one other union executive, has awfully close ties to the local media, raising the question whether the relationship is too close for the fishery’s comfort. 

God knows the local media would hate to offend. I received one call this week from a man who questions why there's even a daily Fishermen’s Broadcast — which celebrated its 57th anniversary this week — when the fishery is but a shadow of its former self. 

I believe in the Broadcast, but only as long as it challenges the powers that be. McCurdy says I would be an ideal speech writer for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his “culture of defeat.” Beg your pardon Earle, but it’s your outdated solutions that have the ring of defeat. Time to lead or get the hell out of the way. 

Just this summer an ATIP request revealed just how close the ties were between the FFAW and the Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters. The FFAW has yet to respond to charges of conflict of interest.  


Yesterday's union: 2008 Independent column shows problems with the FFAW are nothing new



As editor-in-chief of The Independent, a province-wide weekly newspaper (2003-2008), I wrote a weekly column called Fighting Newfoundlander. The following piece was published in the March 7th, 2008 edition. 

Yesterday's union 

When you throw a swing you’ve got to expect a shot back across the bow, but I was mildly surprised with the letter to the editor this week from the fishermen’s union. 

Part of me thought the union was dead in the water, although there’s apparently life in the cold fish yet. That said, the mild flapping of union tails could be mistaken for the final jerk and twitch of a drawn-out death throe. 

Not the union’s passing, mind you.

I’m talking about outport genocide. 

The issue has to do with stamp factories. 

To simplify, last week’s column, Get a real job, took the union to task for trying to create a stamp factory on Newfoundland’s south coast.

I say stamp factory because New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture proposed to create 200 full-time jobs but, following a request by the Town of Harbour Breton and the union, agreed to potentially create upwards of 300 jobs through job sharing so more people will qualify for EI benefits.

Earle McCurdy, head of the fishermen’s union, didn’t have a problem with last week’s front-page story by Ivan Morgan that outlined just those facts.

His problem was with me, and my “typical right-wing, anti-worker bombast” (see letter below this week’s cartoon). 

Why is it that anyone who whispers a hit of dissent against the all-powerful fishermen’s union, with its leaders for life, till death do they ultimately part, is automatically branded as ring wing?

If right wing means pro-Newfoundland and Labrador, then string me up. If right wing means trying to break the cycle of EI dependence, then call me a bad Samaritan and burn me in newspaper effigy. 

I say the union should be charged in court for failing to act as the fishery drowns at its feet. No doubt, fishermen and plant workers have had a hard go of it for years, but the answer to turning the industry around is not more of the same EI dependence.

Which is the tired old union’s only answer. 

It’s sacrilegious to talk poorly about the fishery, EI or the union. McCurdy calls my attack “offensive and mean spirited.” I say the union should be held accountable as much as anyone given the fact that the fishery remains on government life support generation after generation.

In his letter, McCurdy says the lives of plant workers are so had that many of them suffer from chronic pain, which they temper with painkillers.

I say the union itself is on Prosac. 

At the very least, it’s been so reliant on federal programs over the years that it’s become fat, lazy and apathetic. 

When was the last time there was a fisherman’s rally, one in which the yellow buses and box lunches weren’t provided for everyone who showed up.

McCurdy attempts to put me in my place for accusing the union of having it own shrimp and crab quotas and boat to fish them. “Our union does not own a shrimp boat, a crab boat, a shrimp quota, or a crab quota,” he writes, “nor do we own in whole or in part any organization that has such assets.”

It was in May 2004 that The Independent wrote a business story on the so-called “union boat,” as it was known to fishermen on the wharves. The Katrina Charlene was built in the late 1990s by the Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc., a company with close links to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union.

At the time the story was written, Ches Cribb, CEO of the company, which was known in fishing circles as the offshore trawlermen’s co-op, was also vice-president of the FFAW’s deep sea division.

At least two other company directors were also FFAW executives. All directors and crew were union members.

The company was formed in 1996 to retrain deep-sea trawlermen displaced by the collapse of the cod fisheries in the early 1990s. 

A spokesman for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans told the paper in 2004 that the Katrina Charlene was granted an exploratory crab quota of approximately 535 tonnes in 1996. The quota was issued every year after up to 2004.

Cribb wouldn’t tell The Independent who financed the boat, although he did say it wasn’t the FFAW. He said the main purpose of the boat was to train and educate trawlermen. 

At least one fishermen back in the day questioned why the union boat was allowed to compete with boats owned by the membership. “What are they training fishermen for if there’s no fish?” the fishermen asked. “There’s no fishery … are the going to send them to Portugal to fish?”

McCurdy couldn’t be reached for comment at the time. 

He was busy this week writing letters. 

For some reason the union feels its above investigation. It is not. Has McCurdy been in power so long that he thinks he’s God’s gift to fish? Well let me tell you sir, the fish are dead at your feet.

McCurdy, who hails from the old Evening Telegram, as does at least one other union executive, as awfully close ties to the local media, raising the question whether the relationship is too close for the fishery’s comfort. 

God knows the local media would hate to offend. I received one call this week from a man who questions why theres’ even a daily Fishermen’s Broadcast — which celebrated its 57th anniversary this week — when the fishery is but a shadow of its former self. 

I believe in the Broadcast, but only as long as it challenges the powers that be. McCurdy says I would be an ideal speech writer for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his “culture of defeat.” Beg your pardon Earle, but it’s your outdated solutions that have the ring of defeat. Time to lead or get the hell out of the way. 

Just this summer an ATIP request revealed just how close the ties were between the FFAW and the Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters. The FFAW has yet to respond to charges of conflict of interest.  


Monday, September 12, 2016

'The FFAW is a conflict of interest wrapped in a mystery inside a huge puzzle with pieces missing, the missing pieces being fish'

The following are my comments at a news conference this morning (Sept. 12th) at the Fishermen's Centre in Petty Harbour.

Good morning.

Thank you for coming out. 

First off, I want to send our condolences to the families of the four fishermen lost last week from Shea Heights. 

Such horrendous tragedies are all too common in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

We grieve, as the family of Shea Heights grieves, as the entire province grieves. 

My name is Ryan Cleary and I called this news conference as a result of growing unrest within the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.

I'm here with Jason Sullivan, a fisherman from Bay Bulls, and Richard and Joyce Gillett, a fishing family from Twillingate. 

There’s been unrest in the fishing industry for a generation — since the collapse of the northern cod fishery in 1992, and well before that. 

But the unrest today amongst fish harvesters specifically is escalating — today it’s higher and more widespread than I’ve ever seen it. 

Fishermen from one end of the province to the other have had enough. 

They’re desperate, at the end of their rope, and ready to revolt. 

Too many fishermen are at their breaking point with nothing to lose. 

Fishermen are at the breaking point in terms of their ability to make a living from the sea — quotas are down and government and union fees are constantly up. 

They’re also at the edge in terms of representation (or lack thereof) from their union — the Fish, Food and Allied Workers.

That’s specifically why you’re called here today — unrest within the FFAW.

Fishermen say the FFAW does not work for them. 

They include scallop harvesters from the Great Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador who actually took their own union to court (and won) over a compensation fund for lost fishing grounds in the Strait of Belle Isle. 

They include harvesters from the south coast who say the union failed to represent them in regaining access to scallop beds on the St. Pierre Bank.

The union hasn’t fought for them. 

They include fishermen from the northeast coast who are still shaking their heads over the rules governing this year’s cod fishery. 

The rules don’t work for them. 

Worse, the fishermen say they weren’t consulted. 

There is no consultation, and what little there is seems to be a formality for decisions that already have been made behind closed doors. 

There is no transparency, and too many fish harvesters fear repercussions for speaking out. 

What good is a union that doesn’t represent its members?

That’s the question fishermen are asking themselves. 

The FFAW has warped into a corporation heavily sponsored by the Government of Canada, to the tune of millions of dollars a year — a company more interested with feeding itself than representing the best interests of its membership.

The FFAW has lost its way.

The FFAW represents most of the province’s fishery workers — fishermen, fish plant workers, and trawler men. 

Which has always been seen as a conflict, a delicate balance. 

The FFAW is a conflict of interest wrapped in a mystery inside a huge puzzle with pieces missing — the missing pieces being fish, of course. (Apologies to Winston Churchill for fiddling with his quote.) 

The FFAW receives untold millions of dollars a year from various federal departments to administer fisheries programs in the province. 

At the same time, the union is expected to hold Ottawa to account for its day-to-day management and overall policy decisions.

That’s a conflict of interest that doesn’t work for fishermen.

There’s too much suspicion, and no trust.

None. 

The conflict undermines the faith of thousands of fishery workers in — not only their union — but the entire industry. 

Normal checks and balances that accompany a regular union-management dynamic can be compromised when funds change hands between the two, negatively impacting the entire fishing industry.

The federal Auditor General was asked to investigate federal funds directed to the FFAW, but his office declined, referring the concerns to DFO auditors. 

The Canadian Labour Congress was also asked to investigate one of its member unions, but they have yet to respond. 

There is no entity in this country charged with policing unions — besides the unions themselves, in this case the FFAW. 

Another conflict — a long-standing sore point — is the awarding of a controversial crab quota in the mid-1990s to a company with extremely close ties to the FFAW. 

Just how close those union ties are to the FFAW was only leaned in recent months through an ATIP request. 

The then vice-president of the FFAW’s deepsea sector wrote DFO in 1995 asking that priority access to the developing offshore crab fishery be given to struggling trawler men. 

The trawler men didn’t get a quota in 1995, so Ches Cribb wrote again the next year asking again for a snow crab quota. 

But that time he asked — not as VP of the FFAW’s Deepsea sector — but as president of a private company, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters. 

And he got a crab quota. 

That company initially presented itself to DFO as a co-operative, but the description would appear to be a misrepresentation. 

The company's crab quota has been renewed every since since 1996 and profits over that time would be in the millions of dollars.  

Where have those profits gone? 

Who knows, fishermen don’t know. 

Transparency is another huge issue with the FFAW — there is none. 

The FFAW’s revenue sources include a hell of a lot more than union dues. 

Just last week it was learned that an FFAW-controlled company responsible for overseeing the provincewide Dockside Monitoring Program paid the union almost $5.7 million over 10 years for “shrimp grading and crab research fees." 

That’s even though the Fish Harvesters’ Resource Centres (or FRC) is a not-for-profit company created in 1993 strictly to verify fish landings. 

Further, the bulk of the FRC’s revenue comes from fishermen, who are charged a fee for dockside monitoring based on species and catch. 

The news raises the question whether fishermen have been overcharged for dockside monitoring, which is mandatory as a condition of licensing.

The FFAW has yet to respond to any of these charges. 

I have been contacted for months by fishermen around the province who’s asked me — who’ve pleaded with me — to investigate whether they could break from the FFAW and form their own union. 

A union for fish harvesters only. 

A union whose function isn’t to administer the fisheries, a union whose function isn’t to manage the fisheries. 

But a union solely responsible for representing the interests of its membership. 

I’ve consulted with the Labour Relations Board and such a move is possible.

It would be a monumental challenge — a David vs. Goliath challenge — but it is possible. 

This news conference is to announce two public meetings for fish harvesters interested in the formation of a new union — specifically for them. 

The first public meeting will be held on Sept. 19th at the Corner Brook Legion, with the second meeting scheduled for the next day, Sept. 20th, at the Clarenville Inn. 

I’ve consulted with hundreds of fishermen around the province, but now it’s time to fish or cut bait, it’s time to be counted. 

The message delivered at those two public meetings — in terms of the turn out and message — will determine whether we move forward from here.

If fish harvesters want their own stand-alone union, then come to those meetings and say so. 


Thank you.