Nfld. & Labrador

'Taking down the saltwater mafia': Fish harvesters move towards new union

About 100 people gathered at a Gander hotel Thursday to elect the leaders of a new fish harvesters union, and discuss how FISH-NL will go forward.

FISH-NL elects executive, adopts constitution, and looks to a 2017 certification date

Signing up for membership in the newly formed Federation of Indpendent Seafood Harvesters. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The process to formalize a breakaway fish harvesters union began at the Albatross Hotel in Gander Thursday morning.

"I've never seen the unrest as widespread as it is today. It's in every corner of the province," said the leader of the Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters (FISH-NL), Ryan Cleary, in his opening address.

"It's now or never."

Fish harvesters listen as the leaders of a proposed union make their pitch in Gander Thursday. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Cleary, a former New Democrat member of Parliament, was acclaimed as president of the union that presents itself as a rival to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers. 

"We don't have a lot of money, but we have a lot of will, we have a lot of determination to move this forward, so your being here means a lot," Cleary told harvesters.

"The revolution begins today, that's why we're here," he said.

Reg MacDonald, a fisherman from Summerside, knows who he is rooting for and it's not what he calls "the saltwater mafia." (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"We're looking at taking down what I consider as the saltwater mafia," said Reg McDonald who drove to Gander from Summerside on the province's west coast.

We're looking at taking down what I consider as the saltwater mafia.- Reg MacDonald, fisherman

"When this is said and done we will be on to better things, and a better fishery," he said.

"We gave the FFAW 45 years. They never done nothing with it. All they did was get a gold-plated pension and we got nothing but a slap in the ass on the way to the door."

​'It can't get no worse'

The meeting Thursday attracted about 100 people, with lots of empty seats at the front of the room.

Those who attended endorsed a constitution and statement of principles, and agreed that membership in the new union should cost $5.

Brad Watkins, who fishes out of the 3K area on the northeast coast, said people are looking to Cleary to be a strong leader.

"It's nice to see the hats and the bumper stickers. It's nice to see the face of a new union come together," he said.

Fisherman Brad Watkins says he will work to help organize the new union. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Despite Thursday's turnout, Watkins said he's hearing a lot of interest in fishing communities.

"Pretty well the consensus is it can only go up. It can't get no worse. We get this union, it can only better us," he said. "I'm pretty positive it's going to work out, it's going to go through."

Following Thursday's meeting, FISH-NL will distribute certification cards, then submit an application to the labour board, which will check to see if there is a majority of 50 per cent plus one support among all the province's fish harvesters.

"This has got to be a crashing victory," Jim Bennett, a former MHA and lawyer, told people attending the meeting. "You gotta get the cards."

Goal to be certified by January

Lyndon Small from Baie Verte said he will be working to help organize. He said people in his area are excited about a new union.

"You know there's a lot of frustration out there on the wharves, in the garages and on the stages. You know people are looking for a viable alternative." Small said.

"I've seen a lot of issues over the past several decades that I've been very dissatisfied with ... There's a lot of work that needs to be done."

Fish-NL begins formalization

6 years ago
Duration 2:05
The process to formalize a breakaway fish harvesters union began at the Albatross Hotel in Gander Thursday morning. Ryan Cleary was acclaimed as president of Fish-NL.

Richard Gillett, a Twillingate fisherman who is also star of the Cold Water Cowboy television series, was elected vice-president of Fish-NL at the meeting.

The post of secretary-treasurer went to Johanna Ryan Guy, a businesswoman from St. Brendan's who lost two brothers in a 2004 fishing accident. 

Cleary hopes the union will be certified by January.

With files from Chris Ensing