A way of life dis­ap­pear­ing

The Compass - - OPINION -

The fish­ery has be­come a game of con­ces­sions. Rightly or wrongly, the in­dus­try wants its work­ers to make up for the losses it has suf­fered in the mar­ket­place, with prices for dif­fer­ent species of fish go­ing one way – down into a black hole.

Har­vesters claim the prices pro­duc­ers and buy­ers want to pay them means it’s not worth their while to even con­sider putting their boats in the wa­ter. With fuel, in­sur­ance and the cost of sup­plies con­tin­u­ing to climb, har­vesters are faced with go­ing in the red be­fore they even make up their minds to fish.

Seal­ers de­cided not to go to the front this spring be­cause the price for seal pelts sank to around $15; the price of crab was set at $1.35 a pound by a pro­vin­cial pric­ing panel – which the pro­duc­ers claim they can’t and won’t pay and har­vesters claim they need $1.50 to make it worth their while; floun­der catches were that small, in in­di­vid­ual size, Ocean Choice In­ter­na­tional lob­bied the gov­ern­ment for autho­riza­tion to send out un­der­size fish to China for pro­cess­ing and lob­ster prices have re­mained on shaky ground for years.

The king cod is mak­ing only spo­radic re­turns af­ter al­most two decades.

Now, the FFAW has started ne­go­ti­a­tions on a new con­tract for its fish plant work­ers and OCI wants con­ces­sions on wage rates. Ap­par­ently, labour costs are the one large ex­pen­di­ture em­ploy­ers feel need to be brought un­der stricter con­trol.

The in­dus­try that has sus­tained this is­land for over 500 years is now fail­ing fast. The new Cen­tury started off on a down­ward slide and con­tin­ues through­out this first decade.

Har­vesters are be­ing backed into a cor­ner and forced to de­cide if the fish­ery, which had pro­vided a liv­ing for them­selves for 30 years or more and prior to that for their fathers and grand­fa­thers, is go­ing to be the source of a re­spectable liveli­hood their own fam­i­lies.

Sure, there have been snide com­ments about fish­er­men plead­ing poverty and then go­ing out and buy­ing new trucks and recre­ational ‘toys’ for them­selves.

The fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments have poured mil­lions of dol­lars into the in­dus­try be­cause of its so­cial na­ture. The ar­gu­ment is ‘if the fish­ery is not saved, then fam­i­lies and whole com­mu­ni­ties will cease to ex­ist in this prov­ince’.

The in­dus­try/pro­duc­ers want con­ces­sions from their work­ers to widen the profit mar­gin, and the unions/work­ers are try­ing to stand fast and main­tain what they have.

It’s hu­man na­ture you want to keep what you have be­come ac­cus­tomed to, and not sur­ren­der any­thing you’re used to hav­ing.

Fish­ery work­ers look on their em­ploy­ers as ex­hibit­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the mer­chants of old, when th­ese buy­ers hoarded the wealth for them­selves and the fish­er­men slaved for lit­tle or noth­ing. But the pro­duc­ers be­lieve their bot­tom line for a prof­itable in­dus­try is be­ing breached and they, too, can’t give any­more.

The eco­nomic world re­ces­sion, high Cana­dian dol­lar and col­laps­ing mar­kets have again pit­ted em­ployer against em­ployee, and this out­come can have no happy end­ing.

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