Derrick Bragg has denied a SEA-NL request for an independent review of the Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board (PFHCB) at the same time that the Fisheries minister quietly approved changes to the board's certification/renewal criteria. Bragg did so without consulting fishermen directly, which is becoming a trend.
SEA-NL asked Minister Derrick Bragg for an independent review of the PFHCB in mid-December. Bragg wrote back Jan. 4th to say no-go, about the same time he approved changes to the certification/renewal criteria that had been recommended by the Board itself.
The PFHCB is the governing body over professionalization in this province's inshore fishery,
The process to become a licensed inshore enterprise owner-operator takes five years, during which time a perspective skipper must complete certain courses, and earn a minimum amount of income from the fishery.
If they work full-time outside the fishery over the five-year period they're disqualified.
Fishermen have complained for years that the certification criteria are too stringent, and that it is too difficult to pass on fishing licenses within families.
Another huge issue is the financing of an inshore enterprise, which can easily reach $500,000 on the northeast coast (boat/commercial licenses included).
It's a struggle for young fishermen starting out to obtain financing.
According to the PFHCB, of the 4,921 Level II-certified fishermen in this province eligible as of Dec. 31st last year to purchase/operate inshore enterprises, 2,131 or 43% do not own one.
At the same time, according to DFO since 1997 when the PFHCB was created the
number of licensed fishermen in the province has dropped by 74% from 13,294 to 3,453 today, and destined to fall by another 15% as non-core licenses (which cannot be sold or transferred) drop off.
Some fishermen have been reluctant to speak out publicly about the PFHCB and certification criteria, fearing it will negatively impact their applications for accreditation.
That means the minister must go out of his way to consult with harvesters, only he doesn't.
The PFHCB is directly tied to the FFAW-Unifor: the two entities together own the FFAW headquarters on Hamilton Avenue in St. John's, and the Board's board of directors is dominated, by provincial government law, by union reps.
In turning down SEA-NL's request for a review of the PFHCB, Bragg wrote that he met recently with Mark Dolomount, the Board's Executive Director, and approved amendments to the qualifying criteria.
Amendments include setting a minimum age of 16 to apply for certification, and increasing the minimum amount of income that a fisherman must earn from fishing during the fishing season to $5,000 from $3,000.
The fishing season has also been adjusted to run from April 1-Sept. 1, with a 30-day grace period.
Dolomount confirmed that no public meetings were held to gather input on changes to the certification criteria.
Wrote Dolomount: "It was discussed with the Minister’s office and determined that all proposed changed had the intended purpose of making the criteria less restrictive/more flexible (for the purposes of labour supply), and therefore would have no negative impact on existing harvesters."
This isn't the first time Bragg has failed to consult with fishermen.
In 2021 the minister ordered a review of foreign ownership in the processing sector, and last year he called a review of the province's fish price-setting system — without holding meetings with fishermen in either case.
Same thing now with the Certification Board's qualifying criteria.
At the same time, Bragg is holding virtual engagement meetings over changes to Crown lands, which his department is also responsible for.
It's not enough to ask for submissions through engageNL — that may work for an organization, but it doesn't work for an average fisherman.
As an MHA Bragg knows that, but he's made a conscious decision to exclude fishermen from the consultation process.
That's not nearly good enough, Mr. Bragg.
Executive Director, SEA-NL
SEA-NL Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization serving as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. You can read more about SEA-NL, and join us here.