Newfoundland and Labrador’s fishing industry is not where it was 30 years ago. Where it goes from here is what the Groundfish Industry Development Council was created to influence and is working on.
The group includes some of the processing companies active in the province, and both the plant workers and fish harvesters represented by the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union (FFAW-Unifor).
The council gathered in St. John’s Wednesday to settle on a strategic plan and prioritize concerns — anything from gear diversification to improving port infrastructure.
“A lot of fishermen have already changed, but there’s still room for improvement,” fish harvester Tony Doyle said about the approach to groundfish.
Doyle is a member of the executive of the FFAW, a representative out of Bay de Verde, and spoke with reporters at the meeting.
As Newfoundland and Labrador’s shellfish numbers decline and groundfish numbers show signs of further recovery, harvesters will chase that latter resource. Doyle said some have already made investments in the gear required to switch or improve their catch.
As for the demands of fishing cod and other groundfish — pulling in tonnage through eight to 10 months out of a year?
“If you’re going to survive in the industry, you have to put some time and effort into catching the product that’s there,” Doyle said.
Harvester Nancy Bowers was also at the meeting. She owns a long-liner with her husband and operates in Fishing Area 3K.
The speeches at the event were encouraging, but the very existence of the council and goals being set are even more so, Bowers suggested.
“It’s excellent news for us in small boats. We’ve got a great future coming to us,” she said.
Bowers fished some cod this year. While other harvesters reported trouble offloading their catch through several weeks this summer, she said her enterprise did well. Taking a broader look, she suggested the government might financially help small-boat enterprises make the transition to groundfish from mainly shellfish catches.
But she said she has family interested in entering the fishery and is personally ready to keep working and encourage new entrants.
“I truly love doing what I’m doing,” she said.
At the podium, the Barry Group’s Bill Barry said getting to a more sustainable industry is going to involve a period of further financial risk, but his company is pushing forward.
“We have to double down on the future right now,” Barry said.
He said there needs to be more income in the hands of young harvesters, and plant jobs need to be made attractive to young people.
“And we’re only going to have young people in it if there’s money in it,” he said.
Where all the money is coming from — for processing technology, for fishing gear, for hours of labour and attractive job opportunities — remains unclear.
FFAW-Unifor president Keith Sullivan emphasized the co-operation ongoing.
Meanwhile, provincial Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources Gerry Byrne spoke at the gathering. Following his speech, he was asked about his participation, given not all of the groundfish industry is represented through the new council.
He said the groundfish council involves historic, ongoing collaboration between industry players in the processing and harvesting side of the business and is something he supports. Beyond that, he added, the provincial government will work with all stakeholders on industry issues, and his decisions will take all input into account.