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Continuing the fight: FISH-NL preparing for Gander convention

Ryan Cleary, president of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador, speaks to reporters in St. John’s Wednesday.
Ryan Cleary, president of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), says with the financial support they received from harvesters before the end of 2018, the momentum and will is there to continue their fight into 2019. On Jan. 24, at the Albatross Hotel in Gander, FISH-NL will host its first convention of the new year. - Joe Gibbons

Convention to be held at Albatross Hotel on Jan. 24

GANDER, N.L. - With an upcoming convention, Ryan Cleary and FISH-NL are determined to continue their fight through the new year.

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters (FISH-NL) suffered a setback last fall when the Labour Relations Board dismissed their application to be a certified representative for inshore harvesters across the province.

In the aftermath of the decision, which president Cleary continues to dismiss as illegitimate, FISH-NL made a call to action for the financial support of 500 fishers. If that support hadn’t come, Cleary says the organization may have folded.

“At that point we asked harvesters, ‘What do you want to do?’” said Cleary. “If you want to move forward with a second application you got to put your money where your mouth is and pay your dues.

“We got more than 500 harvesters, close to 600, and now we are moving forward.”

The organization’s first major convention of 2019 is set for the Albatross Hotel in Gander Jan. 24. The day’s elections will have all FISH-NL positions up for grabs; Cleary’s position as president, Richard Gillett’s position as vice-president, secretary-treasurer, and captain of over 40 ft and under 40 ft fleets.

Apart from usual convention business, Cleary wants to continue building towards their goal for a second application to the Labour Relations Board later this year.

“We will definitely have a second application for certification and a membership drive,” he said. “The board made their decision. I disagree with the decision – I call it the labour lie. But the important thing is we know the rules of the game, we know the goal posts.

“We have a strategy. I don’t want to reveal our hand and lay it out now… but we know we’re going to get it done in 2019.”

Along with the elections, a constitutional amendment Cleary is bringing to the table is a two-term limit for executive positions with FISH-NL. 

“We want to make sure we don’t have people in positions for life, where they can create little empires around them and have a job for life,” said Cleary. “We see that with many unions, particularly the FFAW (Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union).

“Term limits will immediately make things better for harvesters than what they have right now. They’ll be able to decide who their leaders are and make sure there’s a turnover. Inshore harvesters can vote them out if they’re not doing the job.”

Growing momentum

Fisherman Rod Rowe, 52, has been a consistent supporter of FISH-NL. He plans to attend the Gander convention and partake in the vote for the group’s future representation.

Rowe says the key to growing FISH-NL’s momentum in the aftermath of the labour board’s decision is to ensure as many harvesters as possible are involved in the union debate.

“First thing FISH-NL got to do is get fishermen on their side,” Rowe said. “When it comes to fishing, they’re hard-working people. But when it comes to fighting for their rights, fishermen are lazy — I’ve seen it all my life.

“They want to stand back and let someone else deal with it. That can’t happen anymore.”

The Seldom resident has fished for over 36 years and is firm in his stance that the FFAW has surrendered to the federal government more often than defended the needs of the province’s harvesters.

Rowe has been active in seeking FISH-NL support from harvesters across Fogo Island. He hopes to see at least 15 harvesters from the area attend the convention.

Twillingate fisherman Andy Elliott has never supported FISH-NL financially, but he plans to attend the convention. Elliott says having a group like FISH-NL is beneficial to putting pressure on the FFAW and keeping fishery issues in the spotlight.

“It’s nice to see another union come in to keep other people on their toes,” Elliott said.

Issues to be addressed

As preparations get underway, Cleary says three key issues are being scheduled into the conference — the role seals are playing in the cod and capelin stocks; the effects seismic activity and oil and gas exploration are having on the zooplankton of the ocean; and the potential risks of growing aquaculture in the province.

When he goes to Gander, Elliott hopes to address the issues around young people getting into the fishery, He sees it as a matter of particular importance to the fishery’s future.

“Right now young people are being kept out of the fishery because it’s too difficult to get into,” he said. “That’s the biggest one for me — how can we fight to make it easier for young people to get into the fishery?”

The exact schedule of the day’s events is still tentative. Registration for the FISH-NL convention begins at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 24.

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