The ice is still in, and money’s tight
Province, union still looking for federal help for some fisheries workers
Ice off the northeast coast of Newfoundland has left some fish harvesters and plant workers in a financial pinch, with the province and FFAW-Unifor looking to Ottawa for help.
Plenty of boats are still tied up to avoid heavy ice. Delayed landings in parts of the province means delayed harvester and processor incomes, while employment insurance (EI) benefits have their limits.
“There’s too much ice,” said Glen Newbury, the owner and captain of the Double N, out of Green Bay, still impeded by the icy conditions. “The ice is on the shoreline, but it stretches off into our crab ground, so if you could get off you still can’t fish, or very limited amount.”
Speaking to The Telegram last Wednesday, he said he put in his EI claim late last year and has his seasonal support until late in May as a result. But some of his crew and colleagues have either run out of benefits or will within days, he said, leaving them generally without income until they can go fishing.
The ice will ease off, he said, but right now Mother Nature is at the helm and the clock is ticking.
Crab makes up about 70 per cent of Newbury’s income for the year. He and his crew have benefitted generally from crab prices staying high for the moment and, luckily for them, no hit in quota. He said he has concerns about potential changes to caplin quotas, but also really wants to get some crab ashore.
And he’d be happy if he could run his boat home.
“We were out sealing and we were in Catalina. Our boat is in Catalina and we can’t even get the boat back home. There’s no ports free of ice … so we’ve got like 140-, 150-mile steam along the coastline to get back to our home port and it don’t look too good for the next week or so to even get back home,” he said.
At the back of his mind is an understanding of what can happen if the ice forecasts don’t go your way. In 2014, Newbury and his crew had to be rescued by the Canadian Coast Guard. Their boat was left, trapped in ice, with an iceberg bearing down and an expectation the vessel would be crushed. The Double N survived in the end. It was spotted three days later and was steamed into harbour by another fisherman.
“Fortunately, we didn’t have too much damage. That was The union sent its letter on Monday, May 1, asking the feds again to confirm financial support for fish harvesters and plant workers.
like winning the lottery there,” Newbury said.
Apart from fish harvesters, some plant workers are being affected by the current conditions, according to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW-Unifor), with less crab coming in to process.
On April 21, a news release from the provincial government stated Fisheries Minister Steve Crocker wrote to the Government of Canada to ask for financial help for the affected harvesters and plant workers, not limiting the concern to crab.
The letter was sent to Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patricia Hajdu; Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos; and Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc. Crocker asked for the extension of EI benefits for affected fisheries workers, or equivalent support.
There have since been followup conversations.
Assistance from Ottawa of the type requested was also asked for by the FFAW-Unifor in April and has been offered in the past. In its own news release on April 19, the union noted programs in 2007, 1990 and 1974, and warned of the hardship expected this year.
The union sent its letter on Monday, May 1, asking the feds again to confirm financial support for fish harvesters and plant workers.
According to information provided by Employment and Social Development Canada, the first step in 2007 was for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to determine the ice was indeed a barrier to fishing and special assistance was warranted.
Money provided in 2007 was issued by the federal Department of Human Resources and Social Development Canada (what is now Employment and Social Development Canada), but on behalf of DFO. And it was not an extension of EI benefits.
“If DFO decides that the (current) situation requires such a program, Employment and Social Development Canada would be able to help the same way it did back in 2007,” The Telegram was told via email.
The icebreaker CCGS Terry Fox arrives in St. John’s harbour Wednesday afternoon, while crab fishermen headed in and out in their boats. Crab vessels have been moving at the capital, while most boats on the island’s northeast and north-central coasts continue to be held back from the fishery by heavy ice.