The following are various articles taken from the latest Bulletin , a publication put out by the MFU head office located in Shediac, New Brunswick.
Small Craft Harbours
"Wharf Policy Unacceptable."- MFU's Graeme Gawn
Buyers download the cost of the employer's premium to fishers.
N.S. Mandatory Dues
Vote Results Not Enough.
Lobster Effort Study
Northumberland Strait Lobster (LFA 25) Underway August 7
Roe on Kelp Exploratory Fishery
MFU Takes Another Step
MFU Snow Crab Allocation
Native Lobster Fishery
No Signed Agreement with the Two Main Reserves
in Eastern New Brunswick.
New Brunswick Fleet Resist Fishing Conditions.
It's been a number of years since DFO introduced it's Small Craft Harbour Policy. Now, more than forty wharfs from New Brunswick and more than a hundred from Nova Scotia have formed harbour authorities who have taken on the managment and operation of the wharfs. A number of other wharfs are expected to join them in the near future.
Harbour authorities are now responsible for operation costs such as electricity, trash collection, manager's salary and some of the wharf's repair costs. They have access to government subsidies for a period of three years. Afterwards, harbour authorities are expected to become self- sufficient.
For Frank McLaughlin, MFU President, DFO simply washed its hands of their responsibilities regarding the wharves. "The government's actions weren't taken to improve wharf management but only to cut costs. Wharf repair costs are going to be downloaded to fishers. Fishers will ironically have to pay for repairs that the government never made when it was its responsibility."
The situation is hard for the smaller wharves that are unable to generate enough money through their fees to pay for repair costs. Some wharves aren't in good condition and need more repairs than others. And some wharves are more susceptible to wear and tear. These wharves run a bigger risk of being closed down. DFO's policy also includes giving priority to cost-shared repair proposals which is a more difficult proposition for smaller wharves. DFO's policy won't have the same effect everywhere.
For Graeme Gawn, of Capes St. Marie, N.S., the government's action of abandoning the wharves simply is unacceptable and gives the impression that fishers don't contribute in any way to their communities' economic well being. "Fishers create jobs and pay taxes like everybody else. Wharves are public infrastructures like roads and benefit everyone. Why should fishers be the only ones to pay to maintain them?"
The long term consequences of DFO's policy are dangerous for fishers. Frank McLaughlin is afraid wharf management is simply going to be too demanding and too expensive for an organization made up essentially of volunteers. "I'm afraid that after a few years of wharf management fishers will get discouraged because of the work load and costs and abandon the wharves to private interest groups. We'll find ourselves in the same situation we were in during the 50's and 60's when the small independent fishers were at the mercy of the big companies."
According to Guy Cormier, former President of the MFU, it's true fishers could handle some of the wharf repairs themselves. The major difficulty is making sure everybody does their share of the work. "We can't force anybody to come work on the wharf", he adds. "It's one of the problems of DFO's policy. There's a lack of supervision and accountability."
Wharf operation costs can vary greatly from one wharf to another. This difference in operation costs is likely to affect fishers in the entire region. It's not going to be limited to fishers in those specific wharves. Fishers have already started complaining of excessive berthage fees. According to Guy Cormier, there's a risk of seeing a general increase in berthage fees. "Fishers see that some wharves are charging more than others. It's normal that next year they'll want to charge as much at their wharf."
There are also other urgent preoccupations. Provincial property taxes are quite high in some cases and put in doubt the financial health of some harbour authorities. Respecting environmental norms sometimes can also be an expensive proposition. Added to that, DFO will soon stop paying the cost of insurance. Insurance will then have to add itself to the growing costs of wharf management.
To avoid paying their share of the employment insurance program, some buyers are imposing an 'administrative fee' to fishers to cover the cost of the employer's premium contribution. Employment insurance is financed in part by premiums paid by employee's and employers. The employee's premium is equal to a percentage of his salary. The employer must in turn pay 1.4% of the value of the premium paid by the employee.
According to Clemént LeBlanc of Revenue Canada, there's nothing in the Employment Insurance Act that makes it illegal for employers to impose an 'administration fee' on fishers. But they can't make the employees pay the employer's premium. Such a practice is clearly illegal according to the law. Even if it's illegal, M. LeBlanc admits the law currently doesn't offer many re-courses to stop it. "Once the employer has paid the premiums owed to the government, he has met his obligations according to the Act."
It's already common practice in Nova Scotia to impose such fees and now it's spreading to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. This practice seems to be in part a consequence of the E.I. reform. The reform introduced a significant increase in the amount of premiums which seemed to push some employers to try to recover the cost of the premium through "administrative fees'.
M. LeBlanc noted that such practices even existed before E.I. reform. In the forestry sector, employers have been known to impose the cost of the Canada Pension Plan on their employees. Fishers in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island had been luck until now. The present trend is nevertheless worrisome.
"The consequences are that once again additional costs are being downloaded to the fishers. They end up paying the entire cost of the employment insurance program when it should really be shared equally between the employee and the employer", adds Rory McLellan, executive Secretary of the P.E.I.F.A. He deplores politicians' attitudes on the subject. "Nobody dares to touch it", he says, "even in P.E.I., where it was a big issue int he last elections."
Mr. McLellan believes fishers find themselves in an impossible situation. "Fishers can't win. Even if Revenue Canada was able to put a stop to the practice of charging Ďadministrative fees', buyers would probably compensate by reducing the price offered to fishers for their catches."
Clément LeBlanc says Revenue Canada is aware of the problem. "There has been an increase in the number of complaints we are getting on the subject. The issue will be discussed at our next departmental meeting. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a simple solution to the problem", he admitted with some resignation.
The Nova Scotia Fisheries Organizational Support Act requires 60% of eligble voters to vote to make a dues vote valid. Recent votes held in North Nova Scotia (Region 1) and Cape Breton Sydney Bight (Region 2) both saw the majority of votes favour mandatory dues but neither reached the 60% mark.
In Region 1, 47% of the voters returned a ballot; 186 in favour, 114 against and 1 spoiled. In Region 2, 50% of the voters returned ballots; 216 in favour of mandatory dues, 115 against with 4 spoiled.
Our fishermen, especially in Local 6, are disappointed and it is the second time in a year that they won a majority vote (lobster carapace size was the other)but cannot get the vote recognized.
The problem with the negative result on mandatory dues is that there cannot be another vote held for two years. The Cape Breton fishers believe part of the problem with not sufficient returned ballots was because it was held during the lobster season when leadership in the organizations are busy fishing and have little time to encourage fishers to return their ballots.
Hasse Lindblad in Local 4 goes further and says that the legislation is flawed and that there is not incentive for the organizations to put on a big campaign since the benefits of their work could just as easily go for another group. Apparently some fishers also express skepticism about the dues being set by the Province. Even though the mandatory dues would only have been $100.00, they say that there is nothing preventing the Province from hiking them considerably in the future.
On this last point, MFU fishers know that they have control over dues through our Annual Convention - all dues increases must be approved by Convention. This goes to the heart of the problem with the Nova Scotia Legislation. Instead of the normal process in Canada where a vote is taken to find out whether an organization has the support of the fishers or not, this vote was taken to find out if fishermen support mandatory dues but what happens after that is not so clear for the fishers.
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Omer Chouinard, in partnership with the MFU and DFO, is drawing up a study of changing fishing patterns in lobster to determine the extent of increased effort and whether, in a fixed gear fishery, this poses a new threat to the reasource.
A person will be hired for the project to interview up to three fishers in each of over thirty communities throughout the Maritime Province. Fishers will be chosen to ensure a representative view of the fishery in the different regions of the Maritimes. The study aims to cover close to 90% of lobster fishing areas.
Through the interviews, the study will try to discover what constitutes a typical lobster fishery in the different communities. We hope the study will help us to better define fishing methods in each region of the Maritimes and reveal the existence of specific patterns in some regions, districts or sub-districts. Information concerning the type of boat, bait, engine, electronic equipment, size of traps will be collected.
Beyond the technical aspects, the study will also look into fishers' concerns for the future. Fishers' perception of the government's resource conservation policies over the years will be studied as for their perception of the impact of changing fishing patterns on effort and resource conservation. Other key elements will also be studies. The buyers' role on fishing pattern will be one of them.
The DFO is thinking of repeating the study every five years. The study would serve as a census that would keep tabs on changing fishing patterns and fishers' changing perception of the fishery.
With the bleak landings in 1996 in the lobster area near the Fixed Link, lobster fishers are quite nervous about what catches will be like in the coming weeks in LFA 25 (the fishery will have started by the time this Bulletin reaches you). The area is intensely fished by 900 vessels and has yielded between 9 and 11 million pounds annually during the 1990's.
Many of our members are concerned about fishing effort and the growth in trap size. Nevertheless, DFO has not implemented any new protections for this year despite our request for a Sunday closure and limits on loop size.
Prices are anticipated to be 15 to 20% higher this season and there appears to be much competition between buyers for the lobster. The general decrease in lands of lobster in the Atlantic Region since 1990 has generally made for a better price in the market place. But the important lobster processing sector in Southeast N.B. appears to be hurting as a result of the competition for scarce supplies.
This is the third consecutive year that we're trying to develop a roe on kelp fishery in Southeastern New Brunswick. Two traps were set in the Baie-Ste-Anne region and two in the Ste-Anne-de-Kent and Cocagne region. The landings weren't as important as last year. In Baie Ste-Anne, 11,000 pounds were fished compared to 28,000 pounds the year before and 8,000 pounds the first year. Two traps set up later in the season weren't able to produce any roe on kelp. Fishers also faced problems because of the bad weather. Most of the catches were landed at the end of June. The quality of the product was comparable to the preceding years.
The roe on kelp market wasn't as strong as last year. In British Columbia, the price went from $28 last year to $21 this year. In the past, the roe on kelp from the East Coast sold for less than 50 or 60% of the price offered in British Columbia. Because quantities were limited, it's still too early to determine the product's real value. Roe on kelp will be sold at auction for the first this August.
We still believe that roe on kelp could one day become an important fishery for a number of regions in the East Coast. Nevertheless, it will take a number of years before we're able to develop it's full potential.
We have moved into a sensitive stage in our Scallop Enhancement Project. The Province of New Brunswick has agreed to contribute $30,000 towards the purchase of 10,000 collectors. This should allow us to begin a small scale commercial project in each of the zones of Eastern New Brunswick. We are very confident that we will have excellent rates of collecting spats.
The problem we are now facing is the grow out stage prior to seeding the bottom. Not all areas provide ideal grow out conditions. There are also technical adjustments to the bags that well allow us to collect the scallop spat without also gathering food competitors like clams. Preparation of the collectors will also provide needed work in the next two months for approximately 20 persons.
This year's MFU snow crab allocation in New Brunswick got started May 28 and finished July 14. Approximately 140 inshore fishers, including 10 fishers considered groundfish dependent, shared in the revenues from the snow crab fishery in 1997.
DFO only offered one starting date to fishers because they predicted the presence of soft shelled crab earlier in the season. DFO closed six fishing areas on June 9, and on June 24, closed the fishery in the Bay of Chaleurs. Six boats were forced to take their traps out of the water and go fish elsewhere.
Once again MFU's company, Opilio, administered the fishery and coordinated the selling where possible. Several fishers insisted on selling to a specific buyer and were finally permitted to do so by Opilio's directors.
All prices have not yet been finalized. The price leader has been C-Gem in Caraquet that paid $2.25 per pound. Most other buyers are trying to discound 50 cents for crab of lower quality (i.e. mossy crab).
Fish plant managers advised Opilio before the start of the season that Japanese buyers would be more demanding regarding crab quality. The price offered for the crab would largely depend on it. On the same subject, plant managers said they noticed an increase in the percentage of crab with broken legs this year.
All the Native reserves on the East coast of New Brunswick except for Big Cove and Burnt Church have signed agreements governing lobster fishing for their members. Reserves from Bouctouche, Red Bank and Pabineau have agreed not to use their right to a native food fishery outside the commercial lobster season. Fishers from these reserves will fish their commercial license at the same time as the other fishers.
In Indian Island, a maximum of 500 traps will be used in the native food fishery or for ceremonial purposes between May 1 and June 30 and again through July 1st to the 14th. No traps will be allowed to fish between July 15 and August 8. They'll be able to use 400 traps between August 9 and October 15.
In Eel River Bar, Natives can use up to 350 traps. They have agreed to stop fishing between July 6 and August 15.
There is no agreement between DFO, Big Cove and Burnt Church, the two biggest reserves. This year in Big Cove, 850 tags were given out. According to Fisheries and Oceans, the eight licenses pulled out of Zone 25 will remain the property of Fisheries and Oceans and will be used to compensate for the native food fishery fishing effort. It will remain so until an agreement is finally reached.
The lack of agreements in Big Cove and Burnt Church is causing problems for every body especially respecting catch monitoring and environmental norms. The MFU will keep on working for the integration of native communities in a commercial fishery fair for everyone.
This year, the New Brunswick fleet that will fish a 35 ton tuna quota in Southwestern Nova Scotia is composed of 32 vessels. Most of them arrived in Shelburne the last week of July and were ready to start fishing immediately. But DFO imposed new conditions considered unreasonable by fishers. The fishermen unanimously decided to refuse the fishing conditions and ask for some modifications by DFO.
Two weeks earlier, fishers had been told they would have to pay observers to provide a 5% coverage of the landings. Since last year, fishers are already paying for dockside monitoring. DFO also imposed last year a fee of $150 per tag. This cost isn't refundable even if the tag is damaged.
Fishers had recently heard about an obligation to hail every catch. Like the majority of boats from Nova Scotia and P.E.I., out boats weren't equipped to hail directly from the most common fishing site, the Hell Hole, 120 thousand knots from shore.
This was almost asking the impossible. But fishers went down to the south of Nova Scotia after DFO promised to ind an acceptable solution that would allow them to fish. Once there, the solutions offered by DFO were far from being satisfactory. DFO still wanted fishers to hail every catch. They offered to furnish a satellite telephone for each fleet. Each fleet in turn had to accept to hire an observer able to relay the hail. It not only complicated the fishers work out at sea but it also substantially increased the operation costs for the fleet.
The following week, MFU in collaboration with the other fleets from the Gulf, tried to make DFO understand the unreasonable character of their demands. Finally, after obtaining a simplification of procedures and assurances by DFO that the consultation process would be respected this winter, fishers from New Brunswick joined the other fleets and asked for their conditions to start fishing on August 9.
Bulletin is the newsletter of the Maritime Fishermen's Union.
It is published in both English and French every six weeks.
Send all inquiries to:
The Maritime Fishermen's Union
Shediac, New Brunswick, EOA 3GO
Tel: (506) 532-2485 or Fax: 9506) 532-2487
Layout: Maurice Thériault
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