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Port au Choix fisherman says halibut tags are a union money grab

The Atlantic halibut fishery is becoming an increasing issue in the 4R fishing region. Many harvesters in Port aux Choix say the population has exploded, but they have little quota to catch it.
The Atlantic halibut fishery is becoming an increasing issue in the 4R fishing region. Many harvesters in Port aux Choix say the population has exploded, but they have little quota to catch it.

A fisherman in Port au Choix is protesting a Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) Union policy he believes is illegitimate.    

Dean Olfrey recently caught three halibut without purchasing the mandated tags from the Fisheries Science Stewardship and Sustainability Board (FSSSB).


Olfrey says it now appears he will not be getting charged for this protest, due to what his lawyer calls “union interference.”


“The lawyer is saying I’ll win the case anyway. They haven’t charged me yet and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to,” said Olfrey. “This is just a big money grab for the union, that’s all.”


The FSSB had introduced the halibut tags as part of its Atlantic Halibut Sustainability Plan for the 4R fishing region.


But harvesters outside of Newfoundland and Labrador, though fishing in the same region, do not have to use the tags.

After learning he could not purchase halibut tags directly from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, while other out-of-province harvesters were catching halibut without these tags, Dean Olfrey decided to go tag-less himself and catch three halibut in protest.


Olfrey says he knew something peculiar was afoot when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) told him he had to get his conditions for fishing halibut directly from FSSB’s sustainability board.


“For any other licenses I can go directly to the DFO and get my conditions for how I’m supposed to fish,” he said. “But this particular one with the halibut, I have to pay the union x number of dollars to get my tags because it’s coming from the Halibut Sustainability Board – that’s the FFAW’s resource centre of science.”


Conservation challenges


The Atlantic Halibut Sustainability Plan was introduced in 2013 by the FSSSB. As stated in its official release, the plan was put in place to address on-going conservation challenges with the Atlantic halibut fishery.


Because Olfrey says the FSSSB is an entity of the FFAW, and the DFO is not putting these same tag conditions on harvesters outside of the province, Olfrey feels the union is using these halibut tags not for scientific purposes, but as a way to get money from Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters.


This sentiment led to Olfrey’s decision to go without the tags and fish in protest.


“This is the only fishery I know in Canada where fishermen got to pay for their own science,” Olfrey said. “It’s just another way for the union to get all the money for themselves.”


FFAW Union representative for the region, Jason Spingle, says the FSSSB is an independent organization and not under the direct jurisdiction of the union.

Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) Union representative Jason Spingle says the Fisheries Science Stewardship and Sustainability Board (FSSSB) is an independent organization and not under the management of the FFAW.


“From what I understand, this is an arm’s-length organization,” said Spingle. “These tags are put in place for the fishery and harvester’s benefit.”
But Olfrey says when he sees other out-of-province harvesters catching halibut without the tags and with larger quotas, it only adds insult to injury.

 

“We’ll pay for the science, and the other provinces will come and take the fish. There’s something wrong with it,” he said.


Olfrey is now in contact with Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters (FISH-NL) president Ryan Cleary, and is in support of a labour board vote on union representation.


Cleary says Olfrey’s protest over the halibut tag and the claim he will not be charged are proof the FFAW is no longer working with the harvesters’ well-being at heart.


“Dean and FISH-NL look at this as proof that the FFAW uniform has now gone from union to manager,” said Cleary.


Spingle says he will not comment on any legal aspects of the issue, but with a particularly tough year for the fishery, he understands Olfrey’s frustration.


He says while the use of halibut tags may not be in place for Quebec and Maritime harvesters in the 4R region, Spingle expects it will become policy for some of these harvesters in the near future.


While Olfrey had one of his tag-less halibut confiscated, he is still waiting to hear if he will be fined or penalized for his protest, which he hopes will shine a light on what he says is an injustice to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.


“You wouldn’t see in a communist country what’s going on in Newfoundland,” Olfrey said. “The provincial government wants to get rid of rural Newfoundland, and they’ll do it by getting rid of the fishermen.


“They’re taking our living from us.”

kyle.greenham@northernpen.ca

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