Fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador say they want an immediate halt to new oil and gas developments that encroach on their crab fishing grounds, according to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ (FFAW-Unifor) union.
A news release notes the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) released a new call for nominations last week for two offshore oil and gas exploration areas.
In addition to the parcels located on crab fishing grounds, a second area is situated within a marine refuge closed to all fishing activity, the FFAW-Unifor charged.
“Our members were not consulted on the exploration area that is now up for nominations. We have significant concerns surrounding how this will impact fish harvesters, particularly those that participate in the snow crab fishery,” FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan said.
“Fish harvesters, who have already given up considerable fishing grounds in the name of conservation, will now potentially give up more valuable crab grounds to oil and gas companies.”
The release states that drilling, seismic activity and exclusionary zones push fish harvesters further and further out of their traditional fishing areas.
Nelson Bussey, FFAW-Unifor executive board member and crab harvester from Port de Grave, said the recently announced areas could take millions of dollars in revenue away from the crab fishery and away from the rural communities who need it most.
“Each year our industry is expected to adjust and adapt to the expansion of oil and gas, but there is very little consideration for the impacts it has on the fishing industry or the marine environment,” Bussey said.
“That has to change.”
The C-NLOPB recently issued — under its scheduled land tenure system — a call for nominations in the eastern Newfoundland region and in the Jeanne d'Arc Region.
According to the board’s news release the calls for nominations are meant to assist the C-NLOPB in selecting parcels to be included in subsequent 2020 calls for bids which will close in November 2020, pending board approval and ratification by the federal and provincial governments.
Any successful bidders would be awarded licences in early 2021. The Eastern Newfoundland Sector NL04-EN and the Jeanne d'Arc Region were included in the Eastern Newfoundland Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) concluded by the C-NLOPB, with input from a multi-stakeholder working group in 2014.
In a news release Thursday, the C-NLOPB said it has encouraged and engaged in efforts to promote successful communication and co-operation between the fishing and oil and gas sectors, recognizing both are economic cornerstones of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the rest of Canada.
“Since 2013, the C-NLOPB’s Scheduled Land Tenure process has provided predictability and transparency, featuring successively focused calls for nominations that are used to inform decisions regarding the identification of areas of interest, sectors and parcels, leading to eventual calls for bids and the issuance of exploration licences,” it stated. “The latter step is a fundamental decision that requires approvals by governments.”
The release also stated that C-NLOPB executive and senior staff meet regularly with the FFAW and other fishing industry representatives, and participate in One Ocean, the liaison organization established by and for the fishing and petroleum industries of Newfoundland and Labrador. Issues of common interest are discussed regularly with these parties, and C-NLOPB staff are open and forthcoming in providing information about land tenure initiatives and potential long-term plans.
"...we won’t allow it to be taken away from us.” — Greg Winslow
Glen Winslow, FFAW-Unifor inshore council member and Shea Heights crab harvester, said the exploration areas are in the most lucrative crab fishing area off the province’s east coast.
“This region is the most lucrative crab fishing area in (zone) 3L,” Winslow said. “It hasn’t seen any cuts in recent years compared to many other areas that have seen quota reductions, and we won’t allow it to be taken away from us.”
The union notes the fishery contributes $1.5 billion to the provincial economy and keeps hundreds of rural communities thriving each year.
FFAW-Unifor is calling for a meeting between fish harvesters, the province’s Minister of Natural Resources Siobhan Coady, and the C-NLOPB to outline the concerns of harvesters and ensure those concerns are heard and addressed.
Andrew Daley, a St. Joseph’s fish harvester and chair for the 3L crab fleet, said the government and the oil and gas industry has to learn to respect the fishery and the role the fishing industry plays in the province.
“We refuse to get out of the way, and we refuse to be ignored,” he said.