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Sea cucumber fleet to remain tied up (but don’t expect province to save the day)

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

The 59 permanent licence/temporary permit holders who make up the south coast sea cucumber fleet are unanimous in remaining tied to the wharf until they get a fair price.

At issue are new grading protocols to measure water loss that have been signed off for this year's sea cucumber fishery. The protocols are expected to lower the already agreed-to 70¢/lb price paid to harvesters by 10¢-15¢/lb.


Which is unacceptable.


The protocols were signed off by the province's fish price-setting panel on June 2nd (find that decision here), and are binding on both sides.


The FFAW say they "argued strenuously" against the protocols (find that here), while the price-setting panel said the union was caught by surprise.


This is from the panel's June 2nd report:

PANEL HAS TOO MUCH POWER

According to the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act, the price-setting panel has the power not only to set the price of fish, but to set the conditions of sale.


So the three career bureaucrats who make up the price-setting panel may have the power to introduce grading protocols in the sea cucumber fishery, but that doesn't mean they have a clue as to what they're at.


In fact, the panel has said it was “significantly challenged” when it came to the sea cucumber fishery in that it had practically no information on “the industry, logistics, its products, and yields.”


On top of that, this is the first year the price-setting panel has dealt with sea cucumbers, and there was no market assessment by government or industry.


The fact the panel was pretty much operating blind didn't stop it from signing off on the new protocols that weaken the harvesters' bottom line.


A protest was held Friday in the parking lot of the provincial Fisheries Department in St. John's (find that here).


Minister Derrick Bragg wasn't there, but a statement was issued to say a meeting is being arranged between him, and the FFAW.


That said, the statement highlighted that the price-setting panel is an independent body, and the minister can't interfere in the collective bargaining issue.


So a meeting with Bragg sounds pretty much useless.


URGENCY FOR DEAL

While the fleet remains tied up, there's an urgency for a deal done ASAP.


Most of the sea cucumber fleet hold temporary permits that dictate the licence holder must make at least five trips a year, and/or land 50% of their harvest cap of 260,000 lbs as a condition of their licence. SEA-NL wrote about it here.


It's clear that harvesters and processors will have to work together to strike a fair deal on the new protocols to get the 2021 sea cucumber fishery underway.


But the panel system of fish pricing in this province must also be addressed. Processors hold all the cards, and the panel can't make them show their hand.


The province also refuses to release submissions to the panel from the FFAW and processors.


It's interesting that the Association of Seafood Producers can see the FFAW's proposal, but the union's own members can't.


But the FFAW takes the rhetoric a step further, saying the panel "positioned that lack of information against harvesters."


That's a clear shot against the panel's impartiality.


I've said it before with snow crab (find it here), under the province's panel system of fish pricing inshore harvesters are not paid the best possible price for their product.


For that reason, the system must be overhauled, or scrapped.


Ryan Cleary,

SEA-NL


Independent licensed owner-operators are encouraged to join SEA-NL here. These blog posts will be public for a limited time, before becoming exclusive to the membership.

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