Change in the N.L. fishery: Get used to it

John Furlong has some blunt words for fishing towns

When Premier Kathy Dunderdale lit the match to ignite change in the Newfoundland fishery, she didn't waste any time in getting out of the way to avoid getting burned.

Plagued by years of government inaction on problems in the fishery and by a union that kept confusing  strength with inflexibility, OCI's Martin Sullivan had seen enough. He took matters into his own hands. With millions of dollars in losses pouring out of the Marystown operation, OCI  locked the doors.

In doing so, Martin Sullivan has opened up the fishery to the change many feel is so badly needed and so long in coming.

The plantworkers demand to keep money-losing operations open is sounding shrill. This after years of the "10-42" jokes, the songs about E.I., the social component of the fishery, and the scramble to get people 'stamped up' for the winter.

Moulded in a bygone era, the rules of the fishery suddenly seem archaic against the backdrop of a have-province in the midst of an oil boom.

Just consider  the points that some plantworkers are making:

  • We don't care if a company is losing money, it should stay in business in our community.
  • No business should be allowed to close its doors.
  • Business should be encouraged to invest in this province but there may be limits on how much profit is acceptable?                         

And even though the government has been satisfied to follow the change rather than lead it, there is a strong message for people. Don't rely on the government whenever there's a problem in your community.

As Premier Dunderdale has said, the government won't pay people to live in rural Newfoundland. If people want the rustic charm and quiet way of life, they have to take the package that comes  with it. Fewer economic opportunities, fewer jobs, a lower health care standard. There can't be hospitals in every community, and there can't be shopping malls, and there can't be fish plants.

It's a different world out there. While fish companies were aware of this, they are only now reacting to it. Market demands have changed. Where once people wanted meat extracted from crab, they now want their crab in sections. Does that mean plants should still have people stand  on a production line, creating a product no one wants. Customers want their lobsters whole; today its much the same with crab. 

Newfoundlanders might want their fish in fillets, but that's not what the world wants anymore. Whole, round fish is what the market wants. Do we still invest in labour-intensive filleting because that creates the most jobs?

Change is always hard. Even 'good' change. When you buy a house or have a baby or get a new job. Change is still hard.

It's even harder in the fishery. If you ask most people in the fishery today how they would like the fishery of tomorrow to look, they'll say "like it was yesterday."

That's not the way it's going to be.

About the Author

John Furlong

John Furlong is a host on CBC Radio One in St. John's.