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All Fishermen’s Meeting Held in Prince Rupert — More to Come

On Tuesday, November 9, 2021, an in-person UFAWU-Unifor All Fishermen’s Meeting was held in Prince Rupert. The meeting was open to all harvesters and was hosted by Union representatives Dawn Webb and Joy Thorkelson. Appropriate COVID-19 measures were taken to ensure the safety of those who attended.

Attendance included harvesters from a variety of sectors including salmon troll/gillnet/seine, dive, and long-line. A representative of local MLA Jennifer Rice was also present.

The meeting was held to update harvesters on the Union’s activities while discussing a number of topics important to fishermen. The PSSI announcement and closures, prawn tail tubbing issue, EI and Harvester Benefit, pinniped and prey imbalances, and FOPO were all discussed in detail.

For those who were unable to attend, an overview of topics discussed can be found below — along with information on future All Fishermen’s Meetings:

PSSI Announcement and Closures

This year, DFO announced the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI). This announcement came with a $647 million budget, a focus on 4 pillars (Conservation and Stewardship, Enhanced Hatchery Production, Integrated Management and Collaboration, and Harvest Transformation), and a promise to invest in and save Pacific Salmon. Shortly after, with no notice, public input or emergency funding in place, and with fishermen already on the fishing grounds, DFO announced the long-term closure of 79 fisheries — devastating the commercial salmon fleet.

Since then, UFAWU-Unifor has worked tirelessly to represent commercial salmon harvesters, and build a coalition of those impacted to get answers from the Minister’s office and DFO on the future of the salmon industry, to access emergency funding for those impacted, and to get this information out to the media. 

Prawn Tail Tubbing Issue

In 2021, DFO arbitrarily decided to make it illegal for prawn harvesters to tub and freeze prawn tails and sell them to the public during the prawn fishery. The UFAWU, with other prawn groups, successfully took this to the Federal Fisheries Committee and won a reprieve for 2021. Unfortunately, DFO seems intent on prohibiting this for 2022. The Union is engaged in another fight against this nonsense regulation.

Pinniped Campaign

As anyone who lives in a BC Coastal Community is aware, we have experienced an explosion in pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) that is causing a significant imbalance between pinnipeds and the fish stocks they feed on. Fishermen’s access to fish stocks has been curtailed — as the pinnipeds eat what we used to harvest — and we are used as scapegoats in the name of conservation. DFO continues to avoid the problem so they don’t have to deal with public backlash. UFAWU-Unifor is working with expert scientists who are calling on DFO to recognize that it is time to do something about the problem.

FOPO and Owner-Operator Licence Class

In 2019, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO), published their report Sharing the Risks and Benefits: West Coast Fisheries. Recommendation 15 in the report is to prepare a concept to transition the West Coast Fishery to a “made-in BC owner-operator model.” In response to this, UFAWU-Unifor has been developing a proposal to create the designation of a new “Owner-Operator” licence class.

The OO licence class would be a voluntary, optional designation for licence holders to help facilitate owner-operator policies in BC commercial fisheries. It is also an essential step in bringing the Pacific Region into alignment with East Coast commercial fisheries with the explicit goal of promoting “viable coastal communities and profitable operations for the average fishing enterprise by preventing corporate concentration and keeping licences and their associated benefits in the hands of independent, small vessel owner-operators.” 

Employment Insurance

At present, it seems harvesters may apply if they earned $2500 in 2021, 2020 or 2019. It also appears that a rate will be determined on the best year out of 2021, 2020 or 2019. However, some EI officials in BC are not interpreting the rules that way. The Union is frantically working to get the best possible rules for all. Harvesters are encouraged to apply anyway. The Deadline is December 18, 2021.

Fish Harvester Grant and Benefit

As a response to COVID-19, the Federal Government offered fishermen financial aid in the form of the Fish Harvester Grant and Fish Harvester Benefit (FHB). The FHB Program required the second application to be submitted in 2021 or any funds paid in 2020 would be considered an overpayment.

Many fishermen had difficulties in completing the process. UFAWU-Unifor worked with hundreds of fishermen to complete their applications and meet the submission deadlines in 2020 and 2021.

The second online application was a mess and many fishermen encountered "errors" and were unfairly denied, while others were told that they owed money. UFAWU-Unifor staff did everything possible to help fishermen to navigate the application process, and work with DFO to request extending the deadline to limit financial penalties. Two extensions were granted, but unfortunately, they did not provide enough time.

Communications and Public Engagement:

The UFAWU-Unifor recognized the importance of engaging our membership and the public in the state of our industry and the work that we are doing to fight back and rebuild our fisheries and communities.

It is also essential that we let Governments know that commercial harvesters are here and have a voice. 

To make our stories heard, we have campaigned through official letters, public statements, and media campaigns. Today, most people get a majority of their information through the internet and social media in some form so we have updated our website and engagement on social media platforms. We have conducted public flyer campaigns and are working on a mini-movie to promote commercial fishermen.

Union Dues

All this work takes time, focus, and staff — which means money. To acknowledge that some fisheries are doing much better than others, we have created a new dues schedule based on earnings. Joining the Union starts with a one-time initiation fee of $30. Yearly dues are based on this sliding scale and can be claimed on taxes.

More information can be found here.

Future Meetings

Future in-person All Fishermen’s Meetings will be organized in other areas of the province. Currently discussed locations include Campell River and the Lower Mainland. 

Appropriate COVID-19 measures will be taken to ensure the safety of those who attend and proof of vaccination will be required.

The exact dates of future meetings are yet to be determined and may be impacted by recent extreme weather activity in BC. Please stand by for announcements regarding future meetings.

For any questions related to All Fishermen’s Meetings please contact Organizer Dawn Webb at organizer@ufawu.org or Communications Organizer Liam Hill-Allan at communications@ufawu.org. For any other questions, please contact the Union at 604-519-3630 and follow the instructions to find the appropriate staff member or contact us at info@ufawu.org.

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