Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia fishermen win back right to operate as union

A group of fishermen in the Northumberland Strait area have won back their right to operate as a local of a large fishermen's union.

Local 4 of Maritime Fishermen's Union lost accreditation due to small membership numbers

Fishing boats set off from Mabou, N.S., in April. A Nova Scotia court has upheld the right of a fishermen's union local to operate in the Northumberland Strait area. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia fishermen's local has won a court case to get back its union accreditation.

"It means we can get back to the business of representing our fishermen on fishermen issues instead of spending, as we did, almost two years battling to maintain our organization's accreditation," said Gordon Beaton, president of Local 4 of the Maritime Fishermen's Union on Friday.

That battle began when the province's fisheries and aquaculture minister informed the local that its membership was too small and revoked its accreditation. The minister at the time was Queens-Shelburne MLA Sterling Belliveau.

Membership minimum rule

Beaton's group represents about 45 people who fish in Region 1, which stretches from Pugwash to Cape North. That's a small portion of the 600 or so fishermen in the region. Under the 2011 Fish Harvester Organizations Support Regulations, the local needed 100 members or 15 per cent of the fishermen in the area.

However, the court found that Local 4 was accredited in 2002 under an earlier act. It was nearly 10 years later that the new legislation, with membership minimums, came into effect. It also included a grandfather provision for organizations accredited under the old legislation.

"There is no explicit minimum membership requirement for grandfathered organizations," Justice Gerald Moir said in a decision released Thursday.

Judge lost track of case

The ruling comes a year after the judge reserved decision in the case. "Unfortunately, my systems for keeping track failed. I have apologized to the parties," Moir wrote.

Beaton is hopeful that the local's numbers will increase. A union drive is being planned.

"Our membership is very loyal and dedicated. I fully expect they will be glad to continue to be members after this win," Beaton said.

"Some people felt pretty bad about what happened to us. There might be some guys that hadn't joined before that kind of feel ... it is good to have us around and may move their support our way."

Some fishermen report landings down 40-50 per cent from last year. (CBC)

Preserving fish stocks

The Maritime Fishermen's Union is the second largest fishermen's organization in Atlantic Canada, next only to the Fish Food and Allied Workers Union in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The union has two other locals in Nova Scotia: Local 6 in Cape Breton and Local 9 in Southwestern Nova Scotia, as well as over 1,300 members in New Brunswick.

The union is active in taking fishermen's concerns to the government, especially in areas of preserving fish stocks, Beaton said.

"We have been lobbying hard for lobster conservation methods in the Gulf [Region] through trap reductions and carapace size increases."

Strength in numbers

Kurtis MacGillivray, a fisherman from Lismore, says he is a member of the union because he believes in larger, stronger organizations.

"I believe there is strength in numbers and geography," he said in a statement.

"We are a strong organization with the capacity to move this fishery forward because, as a larger organization that is spread out through N.B. and N.S., we ultimately have a stronger voice, especially dealing with important policy decisions affecting the future of our fishery in all of Atlantic Canada."