Nfld. & Labrador

FFAW denies allegation of conflict of interest in relation to Hebron tow-out

The latest flare-up in tension between the FFAW and FISH-NL involves the recent tow-out of the Hebron oil platform, and a lucrative contract awarded to a fisherman with close ties to the union.

Union says Port de Grave boat chosen to guide tow-out was selected in random draw

A fishing vessel called the Eastern Princess II escorted the Hebron platform and its tow vessels, ensuring the route was clear of fishing gear and other obstacles. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

The province's fisheries union is scoffing at an allegation from a rival that it rewarded an influential enterprise owner by giving him a contract to escort the Hebron platform to sea.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers' union is also defending its relationship with the oil and gas industry.

"To suggest the FFAW has a conflict of interest with the oil and gas industry shows ignorance to the necessary interaction that exists between the fishing industry and oil and gas activities," Robyn Lee, the union's petroleum industry liaison, said in a statement to CBC News.

"These two industries are both essential to the economy of our province, and as the union representing fish harvesters in the province, we are doing everything possible to best mitigate any effects from the oil and gas industry on the fishing industry."

Clearing a safe path

The latest flare-up in tension between the FFAW and the Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) relates to the recent tow-out from Trinity Bay of the Hebron platform.

The two groups are locked in a bitter feud, with FISH-NL fighting to replace the FFAW as the official bargaining agent for inshore harvesters.

The Eastern Princess II, pictured here during the annual Christmas lighting ceremony in Port de Grave, was chosen to be guide vessel in a random draw, according to the FFAW. (CBC)

A Port de Grave-based fishing vessel, the Eastern Princess II, owned by Nelson Bussey, was hired as an escort for the tow-out, and went ahead of the eight tow vessels and the Hebron platform on the journey to the Grand Banks.

FISH-NL issued a news release this week calling on the FFAW to explain an "apparent conflict of interest" involving Bussey, who serves on the union's executive.

Bussey is also a board member on a group called One Ocean, a liaison committee with representatives from both the fishing and oil industries.

"Fish harvesters demand and deserve an explanation," Ryan Cleary, president of FISH-NL, said.

Contract 'worth a small fortune,' says Cleary

Cleary suggested the contract paid "upwards of $10,000 a day" and that the FFAW was taking a cut of more than 40 per cent.

"The fact that a senior executive of the FFAW has received a contract worth a small fortune through the union while also serving on the board of One Ocean raises yet another obvious question of conflict of interest," Cleary said. 

"And it's a question harvesters around the province are asking."

Ryan Cleary is leading the Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters, or FISH-NL in a fight to represent inshore fishermen. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Cleary asked the union to release details of the escort contract, and disclose the level of funding the oil industry pumps into One Ocean or the union directly. 

The union, meanwhile, is denying it gave preferential treatment to Bussey.

"FFAW manages the Fisheries Guide Vessel program on behalf of its members to enable equal opportunity for all members to contribute to, and benefit from, oil and gas related guide vessel opportunities," Lee explained.

"All enterprise owners who apply to the program are entered in an annual random draw from which the first name is given the opportunity of first refusal. Names are placed in priority sequence based on the order from the random draw. The process used to select the Eastern Princess II was no different than any other opportunity made available through the program."

Cleary says union too cozy with big oil

The union did not respond to questions from CBC News about the value of the contract, the number of enterprises involved in the random draw, or how much revenue the union generates from activities related to the oil and gas industry.

Cleary said the FFAW is generally very quiet about oil exploration and production off Newfoundland's east coast, and questioned why the union is not raising concerns about the record amount of seismic surveying planned for this year.

"Seismic activity uses high energy, low frequency sound waves that can penetrate thousands of metres below the sea floor, and while the impact on fish stocks and the marine environment is debatable, the FFAW hasn't raised any concerns," Cleary wrote.

"That's alarming, considering fish stocks such as northern cod are still at a critical level, and the Grand Banks in general remain delicate."