Nfld. & Labrador

3 reasons the FFAW says FISH-NL can't be trusted

FISH-NL, a group of fish harvesters upset with their union, the FFAW, has been blasting the union for months in an attempt to separate and the FFAW is fighting back.

Fish, Food and Allied Workers fending off group trying to leave their union

From left, harvester Peter Leonard, president Ryan Cleary, and harvester Jason Sullivan of FISH-NL spoke to reporters in St. John's Friday. (Meghan McCabe/CBC)

Under the leadership of Ryan Cleary, FISH-NL has been campaigning against the FFAW with a list of grievances fish harvesters have against what some of them call "the saltwater mafia." 

The Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters (FISH-NL) says fishers' best interests are not being represented by the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW).

Friday morning in St. John's, FISH-NL formally filed for union certification with the Labour Relations Board so its members can leave the FFAW. The board will review the signed membership cards to determine if FISH-NL has enough support to trigger an official certification vote via secret ballot. 

FFAW secretary-treasurer Dave Decker outlined the reasons his union feels FISH-NL, led by former NDP MP Ryan Cleary, cannot be trusted.

1. Numbers

Cleary will not reveal how many fish harvesters have pledged their support to FISH-NL by signing the membership cards submitted to the Labour Relations Board Friday. 

Decker said that shows they don't have enough support. He said roughly 10,800 harvesters are registered with the Fish Harvesters Certification Board, a provincial body, so FISH-NL knows how many there are. 

"I don't think actually that they do have several thousand cards signed," said Decker.

"They're actually, what they're trying to do is pull the number down. 6,000 is the kind of number they talk about, which is clearly totally false. It's not the number." 

2. Inexperience

FISH-NL has said the FFAW executive is in it for their own financial gain, not to represent the best interests of fish harvesters. It said people are being shut out for supporting FISH-NL.

"That's absolute bullshit. The reality is nobody has been shut out of any process," said Decker. 

He said Cleary does not have the experience to lead a union within the industry. 

"Ryan Cleary has no understanding of what it is to manage the fishery in a sense from what DFO does, the union's role in 2016."

3. Exploitation 

Cleary said FISH-NL has more support in communities where fish harvesters are struggling the most, like on the Northern peninsula, and less support in parts of the province faring better. 

Decker said the fishery faces difficult times, and Cleary's areas of support prove FISH-NL "is taking advantage of these kinds of stresses and strains."

He said it's a complicated industry, "even more complicated right now because we're going through another transition, similar to what we were going through in the moratorium."

"We're going to have to try to figure out a way as an industry – how do we move from basically a shellfish-dominated regime to a groundfish-dominated regime?"

"This is about undermining the industry, there's no way that harvesters can win with that kind of process going on constantly," said Decker.

With files from Terry Roberts