Cod fishermen give away fish to win end to buyer ban

St. John’s downtown resident Thomas MacMillan took home two bags of cod fish handed out by FFAW-Unifor member Jim Chidley of Renews

THERE WAS NOTHING ‘FISHY’ ABOUT IT. Cod fishermen in Newfoundland were giving away fish on August 12. It was part of an action to end what their union called “an illegal lockout”. And it worked: the ban on selling fish to out-of-province processors was lifted.

The ban was the reason cod fisherman found themselves with holds full of fish on the first day of the season and nowhere to sell it. The local processors, who could buy the fish, were full up processing the end of season caplin catch. The cod fisherman were “locked out”.

They called on the provincial government to intervene to allow them to sell to out-of-province processors. Rather than waste the fish they had already caught the fishermen decided to use it to draw public attention to their situation with a free fish giveaway in St. John’s. The public and the government noticed.

Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne quickly approved the sale of cod to out-of-province fish processors for a trial period of two weeks.

Shades of the bad old days

“This cartel-like behaviour by processing companies sets a dangerous precedent that must be addressed so that these actions cannot be replicated in the future,” said David Decker, FFAW-Unifor (Newfoundland Food Fish and Allied Workers-Unifor) Secretary-Treasurer.  

“FFAW-Unifor will pursue all possible remedies to resolve this blatant violation of the Master Collective Agreement. The livelihood of fish harvesters cannot be held hostage by the actions of a few large fish processing companies.”

The union cites the actions of Icewater Seafoods as an example of how processors freeze out local fishermen. Icewater Seafoods received nearly $6 million in provincial and federal funding last year only to ship in frozen cod for processing—while refusing to purchase fresh, local product.

“It’s appalling that a company would receive millions in taxpayer dollars for investment in their plant only to turn around to take illegal action that shuts out Newfoundland and Labrador fish harvesters,” says Decker.  

“It seems like processors want a fishery of 50 years ago, where merchants ruled and unilaterally dictated how the fishery was prosecuted. We will not go backwards.”

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