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Earle McCurdy should not be on fish price-setting panel (but then there shouldn't be a panel)

More than that, Monday's protest could just as well be held at the FFAW-Unifor headquarters in St. John's and Corner Brook as the steps of Confederation Building or the west coast civic centre.

The FFAW-Unifor headquarters in St. John's is actually named the Richard Cashin Building after the man who came up with the provincial government's panel system of fish pricing. The building was firebombed last year.



Why did the union go so low with its offer of $9.05/lb to start the 2022 snow crab season when the price ranged from $8/lb-$12/lb last fall across the Gulf?


Is it because crab plant workers around the province also want a raise, and the union represents both the inshore fleet and plants?


That conflict of interest is built into the FFAW's DNA, and hangs over every negotiated price, for most every species of fish.


The conflict is compounded when the union controls various quotas, and tells fishermen where to sell certain catches.


It's a job for owner-operators to unite under the union banner when the FFAW's very structure works against them.


Can owner-operators count on McCurdy to land them the best possible price for their fish, given other fishery considerations he had to weigh over 34 years with the union?


Backroom deals, or at least the perception of such deals, are bred by such obvious conflicts of interest — ones that the provincial government chooses to ignore by appointing McCurdy in the first place.



As for the province's fish price-setting panel, it's a travesty of free-market enterprise.


The panel often makes blind decisions on price (think 2021 sea cucumbers), with no means to pry market information from buyers/processors.


The panel can't even choose middle ground between the FFAW's snow crab price of $9.05/lb and the $7.60/lb put forward by the Associations of Seafood Producers.


By provincial government law, the panel must choose one price or the other — when the right price is usually in between.


Under the panel system of fish pricing, the 2021 snow crab price paid to the inshore fleet was locked in at $7.60lb on April 25th — when the market price continued to rise almost weekly after that until late in the fall.


The inshore fleet lost untold millions of dollars.


The panel system didn't allow for a market adjustment for the remainder of the year — which was robbery.


Then the provincial minister responsible for labour said there was no need for a change to the price setting panel.


So much for fair market price.


Make no mistake, there's a desperate need for a fishery protest at Confederation Building, but the FFAW has just as much — or more — to answer for as the province.


The FFAW-Unifor might also be looking for a distraction after news broke that the union's national leader, Gerry Dias, accepted a $50,000 payoff.


WHAT DO PLANT WORKERS THINK OF FFAW'S CHANGE IN STANCE ON OUTSIDE BUYERS?


That's another good question for the union,.


It's not possible to suck and blow at the same time., but the union has been doing it for decades.


It's hard to take the union's call for outside buyers seriously when the idea is raised halfway down a weekend press release, and when such a move could threaten unionized plant jobs that the FFAW also represents.


The union said it "tried to establish" a new pricing system for snow crab directly linked to Urner Barry (which is how lobster is priced), but "no agreement could be reached."


That didn't seem like much of a fight, and a new fish pricing system is a hill to die on.


Under the Urner Barry formula of lobster pricing, the harvester's share of the market return increases at higher market levels. Prices are adjusted weekly using a formula based on figures posted by U.S.-based market reporting agency Urner Barry.


There are still flaws with the system.


Lobsters from this province may not be sold until after the season is over —and prices rise —but the province's fish price setting panel (as noted in its decision last year on the lobster price-setting formula) has no way to verify whether lobster fishermen are receiving a fair market share.


Still, that system would be better than the panel.


Canada's largest snow crab fishery is off Newfoundland and Labrador, where increases are expected this year when the quotas are announced likely next week. The 2021 total allowable catch (TAC) was 38,186 tonnes, a 29% increase from 2020, and the first real rise in more than a decade.



The Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act once allowed for an auction system for the sale of fish, but a sunset clause was also included in the act so that the possibility of an auction expired in 2006.


The idea of an auction system was mentioned in The Big Reset, the report of the premier’s economic recovery team.


The report stated the collective bargaining structure in the fishery industry — with harvesters represented by one bargaining agent (FFAW), and processors represented by one association (ASP)— is “anti-competitive by nature, and requires an exemption in the federal Competition Act (Section 4)."


The Big Reset continued: "This price-setting structure often isolates the industry from the market where quality and consistency of supply is required. The structure can also tarnish the relationships between harvesters and processors, making it difficult to collaborate on other important issues. As well, many of the decisions and policy positions brought forward harm fish processing workers, but the voice of harvesters overshadows these concerns."


That's one tangled web.


Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL


To read more about SEA-NL, and for owner-operators to join please visit our website or e-mail sea-nl@outlook.com Sign SEA-NL's petition to the House of Commons on non-core commercial fishing licences here.

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