The meeting was organized by former MP Ryan Cleary and fishermen Jason Sullivan and Richard Gillett to gauge interest on having fish harvesters break away from the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union and form their own.
The FFAW also represents plant workers and offshore trawler harvesters.
Johanna Ryan Guy, search and rescue advocate, spoke at the event.
As she stood in front of a room packed with hundreds of fish harvesters, she placed her hand over her heart.
“Where the hell were (FFAW)?,” asked Ryan Guy.
Monday, Sept. 19, was the 12-year anniversary of the Ryan’s Commander tragedy. Her brothers, Joe Junior and Dave Ryan both died when their boat capsized off Cape Bonavista.
“I never, ever had a meeting with them,” she said. “They never helped me — not one iota.”
After the tragedy, Ryan Guy went on to challenge the search and rescue protocol, including the response time, and question why the longliner was even allowed be on the ocean.
“It was me who spoke for the family. It was me who challenged (Department of Fisheries and Oceans). It was me who challenged Transport Canada. And it was me who spoke and spoke and spoke until (I) was literally blue in the face,” said an emotional Ryan Guy to applause.
She says the rules currently in place are “ludicrous”, including having fishermen be told what size vessel they are permitted to fish from.
Also in attendance was retired search and rescue reform advocate, Merv Wiseman.
“I believe when something is broken, you should fix it. And I believe something is broken,” said Wiseman.
Letter read at FISHNL meeting
FISHNL organizer Jason Sullivan also read a letter from Chantel Giles-Hickey, originally of Southern Harbour, at the Clarenville meeting.
Her father, Anthony Hickey, was cousin and best friend to the skipper who owned the licence of the boat that capsized in Placentia Bay last summer.
The three fishermen in the 23-foot open boat died in the tragedy in June 2015.
Giles-Hickey’s letter was critical of the FFAW. It read:
Unfortunately I could not be there today so Mr. Cleary has agreed to ensure that what I have to say can be heard as well.
My father, like many of you here today is a fisherman.
He has been since he was 13 and, as a result, has seen many changes come and go in the fishery in Placentia Bay as well as other parts of the province.
Many of these changes in recent years have not been good for the fishermen of Newfoundland unless it some way benefits the higher ups of the FFAW.
What happened in June 2015 is the reason why my father and myself feel that it is time for change for our fisherpeople and their families in the form of their own union.
In June of 2015 three fishermen drowned in Placentia Bay as a result of trying to catch their crab quota in a 23-foot open speedboat.
My father was the first person to notice them missing and after searching for a few hours alone, got in contact with the owner’s brother to call the coast guard.
By 1 p.m. the next day, all three had been found — but not in the way that any of us had hoped.
That evening my father called out DFO and the unsafe regulations in this province that lead to not only three families dealing with a loss but three communities.
From this incident, my father had to bury one of his best friends.
I, myself, am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words and this situation proved that to be true because all (that) was heard from the FFAW was silence.
They seem uncaring that the lives of three were lost.
On the other hand, Ryan Cleary agreed (with my father), stating there needs to be changes made.
This is one of the reasons that you are all here today. After speaking to Mr. Cleary myself about what he intends for this union, one thing he really wants to do is change regulations so that the fisherpeople of our province can be safer.
That to me, shows that this man’s actions go not only with the words he spoke, but are louder (than his words).
He is proving to me and my father he wants to bring positive change for the fishermen and not just money to make his pockets bigger like the FFAW.
I only hope that if he is successful in setting up this new union, that he is successful in bringing about the changes that are needed to keep our people on the water safe. It may come too late for those three men and the countless more who have died due to the regulations, but it will hopefully save the lives of many more.
My only hope is that as you leave this meeting, the want for change burns in you.