What we decide today. Impacts tomorrow.

On the heels of forceful and disruptive protests held last week by fish harvesters, on March 22, 2024, The Honourable Elvis Loveless, Minister of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture agreed to policy and structural changes to Newfoundland and Labradors’ fishery that will have negative impacts and potentially long term implications for plant workers, the seafood processing sector, and rural, coastal communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

While the details of the changes announced last week by the Minister are unknown, we do know that the changes include increasing processing capacity by issuing new licenses and increasing processing caps at select plants as well as allowing outside buyers for all species.

Lack of consultation divides the fishing industry.

Last week, the government made fundamental policy changes to the fishery with ZERO consultation with the 5,000 plant workers employed in the sector. Every year, fish harvesters who are backed by the FFAW Executive dictate the terms of the fishery with no consideration for the impact on plant workers in the province. Last year, it was a major delay in the season that resulted in a highly compressed season for plant workers and this year it is what harvesters are calling “free enterprise” – what will it be next year?

There is currently excess processing capacity in the province.  What will more processing capacity and outside buyers mean for plant workers and rural Newfoundland?

The existing 25 crab plants in Newfoundland can produce all the crab in the province and then some. In recent years, plant workers have had no issue with processing all the crab within the season. In fact, it is becoming more and more difficult towards the end of the season to keep the plants operating at full capacity.

Last year, with the condensed operating season, due to harvesters delaying the start of the season by six weeks, plants processed more than 10 million pounds per week in 8 of the 14 weeks of the 2023 season.

Additional processing licences do not create new employment. It leads to the spreading of work across additional facilities, making it more difficult for plant workers to reach their qualifying hours for EI. In 2023, many plant workers struggled to reach their minimum number of qualifying hours, especially as the unemployment rate dropped, causing their required hours to increase from 420 to 490. This will prove to be even more difficult if their work is redistributed to others.

How can harvesters advocate for outside buyers and risk the livelihoods of those who rely on the fishery for their employment? Communities are at risk of plants closing which will leave rural, coastal communities in the province without their sole economic driver and employer.

Shipping resources outside the province for processing will have far-reaching implications; service providers that support the fishery, local business in regions with processing facilities as well as individuals employed with these service providers and businesses will be negatively impacted.

Increasing processing capacity based on resource increases will have longer-term consequences for existing operators given the excess capacity that exists in the industry. Increasing processing licenses due to a quota increase does not address the impact on processing when the quota decreases. The stock is currently at or near peak and while the overall stock status is positive, it’s possible that changing environmental conditions, including water temperatures, may limit the stock’s growth in the short-term.

A fishery that is plagued by seasonal employment or one that focuses on longer operating seasons as a means of maximizing the value of the resource for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. We need a long-term solution that protects and supports the existing workers, communities and companies that have invested in and developed this industry to the benefit of the province.

Make a difference in our future.

Show your support by adding your name to our petition to send this letter to the Honourable Elvis Loveless, Minister of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture.

Dear Minister Loveless,

On behalf of the approximately 5,000 people employed in the seafood processing sector in Newfoundland and Labrador, I am writing today to voice my concern about the recent protests and subsequent decision by the government to increase processing capacity, issue new processing licenses, and permit outside buyers to enter Newfoundland and Labrador’s fishery.

It is extremely disheartening and disappointing that the government has made these decisions in response to disruptive protests and without consulting with the processing sector. These changes are detrimental to the viability of the sector, they risk the livelihoods of the people employed at plants throughout the province, and they also jeopardize the future of rural, coastal communities that rely on fish processing plants for employment and their local economies.

More seafood processing capacity means less work and less hours for those already employed in existing facilities. Existing facilities in Newfoundland can produce all the crab in the province and then some. In fact, it is becoming more and more difficult as we come to the end of the season to keep the plants operating at full capacity.

Issuing new processing licenses results in work being transferred between facilities and communities – it does not achieve new employment opportunities. If the Government approves new licenses, it will dilute employees' ability to work meaningfully hours and risks their opportunity to receive ample work for the season.

Allowing outside buyers will result in other provinces reaping the economic and employment benefits of our fishery at the detriment of our workers, local businesses, and communities. Local businesses that rely on the seafood producing facilities and the income earned by plant workers will be lost.

Minister Loveless, there is an opportunity to make the right decisions. Do not dilute processing capacity in Newfoundland and Labrador and do not allow our premium seafood to be shipped to other provinces for them to reap the economic and employment benefits.

The negative impact that the decisions announced on March 22nd will have on the fishery will be felt for many years to come. Please do what is right for the long-term prosperity of the fishery and Newfoundland and Labrador.