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Commercial Fishing



FFAW Unifor tightens grip on NL fishery; former executive takes helm of fish processing licensing board. The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) is shocked that a one-time executive member of the FFAW-Unifor has been quietly appointed to chair the provincial board with a key role in licensing fish plants and buyers. 

Jerome Ward, former assistant to Gerry Byrne, has also been appointed to the same board.

At the same time, a former executive-assistant to Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne has also been given a seat on the board.

Both appointments — which have yet to be publicly announced — raise questions of conflict of interest, and severely diminish any hope inshore harvesters have of getting the best possible price for their fish.

“The FFAW looks to be tightening its grip on the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery,” says Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL. “There’s one thing you can take to the bank — inshore harvesters will suffer for these appointments with lower prices for their fish.”

The Fish Processing Licensing Board is described on the NL government website as arm’s-length, with a mandate to make public recommendations on all fish processing licensing proposals. That includes new licenses and transfers, as well as corporate concentration, and merger and acquisition issues.

On Feb. 4th, four people were appointed to the province’s Fish Processing Licensing Board for four-year terms — including Reg Anstey as chair, and Jerome Ward as a member. 

At the same time, the qualifications to serve on the Fish Processing Licensing Board, as outlined on the provincial government website, are clear in stating that members must not be in a “direct or indirect conflict of interest.”

Anstey served as secretary-treasurer of the FFAW-Unifor for years before retiring in the mid-2000s, but has maintained close ties with the union. He recently served as chair of the FFAW’s elections committee, and as late as 2015 was a member of the board of directors of the company that oversees a controversial crab quota with close ties to the FFAW.

Ward served as executive assistant to Gerry Byrne for more than 12 years when he was an MP in Ottawa. Byrne also endorsed Ward as Liberal candidate in the district of the Straits-White Bay North in 2014, although Ward lost the nomination to current Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation  Minister Chris Mitchelmore.

Ward is also coordinator of the North of Fifty-Thirty Association, representing inshore harvesters in communities on the Great Northern Peninsula, from River of Ponds on the Gulf side up to the tip of the peninsula, and to Englee on the northeast side.

“What chance do inshore harvesters have of getting fair market value for their fish — on par with the Maritimes and Quebec — when both the FFAW and Gerry Byrne are publicly against outside buyers?” questions Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL. “The FFAW already controls hundreds of tonnes of quota and just about every aspect of the fishery. Now they’re out to control the processing end in terms of both union and non-unionized plants.”

In early January the Seafood Processors of Newfoundland and Labrador (SPONL) — representing 15 small, mostly lobster processors/buyers with a combined export value of roughly $40 million — lodged a complaint against Royal Greenland with the federal Competition Bureau for “predatory” behaviour like paying higher prices and bonuses to inshore harvesters.

While FISH-NL has pushed for outside buyers, Byrne told the media recently he’s against the idea, arguing local processors are required to deduct workers’ comp and EI premiums from the amount they pay inshore harvesters.

Meantime, Royal Greenland, which purchased Quin-Sea Fisheries in 2016, made those same deductions and still paid lobster harvesters far better prices last year.