Vote favours strike; but 1688 says go fishing

Tina Comeau
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By Tina Comeau


At a 1688 meeting held in Yarmouth on Friday evening, May 4, the majority of those who were at the meeting to cast a ballot voted to continue with a strike that had being going on for just over a week. Although come Saturday morning, many boats were expected to be out fishing anyway.

Later Friday night on its Facebook page, the 1688 Professional Lobster Fishermen Associated said fishermen should go fishing because the strike has lost its effectiveness. 

Posted to the 1688 Facebook page was the following message: 

"The outcome of tonight’s 1688 meeting was that the majority of the people voted in favor of keeping the strike on.

The 1688 PLFA board strongly suggests to our members and non members that you go fishing tomorrow, Saturday, May 5, 2012 and continue to do so for the rest of the spring season. We feel that the strike is no longer as effective as it once was. We feel that the majority of the fishermen will be fishing tomorrow. The time has come to revaluate the effectiveness of the strike.

Our strike was successful as we united our fishermen in district 34. We have been successful in making a strong united stand. The most important message to that we shown each other we can work together and be one strong united voice. And you did have the buyers scrambling, you sent them a strong message." 

And on Saturday morning there was another post from the 1688 board on its Facebook page about the vote that was conducted at the meeting on Friday night. This one read:

"The 1688 PLFA board felt that the voting in last night's meeting in Yarmouth was not conducted accurately as captains only should have voted to or not continue the strike. And everyone voted. Therefore the vote last night was invalid. 1688 PLFA will be holding a board meeting today to discuss the outcome of last night's meeting."

Of the votes that were cast on Friday night, 205 people voted to continue with the strike, while 72 voted to end the strike and go fishing. Anyone at the meeting was allowed to vote, whether they were a licence holder, a crewmember, a member of the association or not a member. There was no breakdown as to the demographics of the vote.

Many fishermen in lobster fishing area 34 – the largest lobster district in Canada in terms of licence holders – went on strike at the end of April, hoping that decreasing the supply of lobster would force buyers to commit to a price for the remainder to the season, which closes on May 31. Initially the fishermen said they wanted a committed price of $5.50 for the remainder of the season. Most recently they said they’d be happy with a committed price of $5.

Although the price fishermen could have gotten for the catches in the past week, while they were on strike, had been $5 a pound, fishermen worried that without taking any sort of action the price per pound they are paid for their catches would drop to $4 or below by the time the season ended and they say that can't afford to continue to fish for low prices.

But a committed price for the next four weeks has not materialized, which is why people who are committed to strike wanted to see it continue Friday night. They still hope a committed price is achievable.

But others question what can be achieved if not everyone is staying ashore, and also given that other lobster fisheries in other districts have now opened.

James Mood, president of the 1688 Professional Lobster Fishermen Association, had just one meeting with buyers during the strike. He told those at the meeting Friday night, “Did I want this to work? Did I want a committed price for you guys? Yes I did. I did want that.”

But Mood and some others said the strike did accomplish something, because it showed that large numbers of fishermen can stand united on something they believe in. 

Although it will never be known how many stayed ashore because they truly believed in the strike, as opposed to how many stayed ashore because they felt pressured to do so. 

While the vote at Friday’s meeting to keep the strike going represented a majority of those who were in attendance and voted (the majority of the lobster industry was not part of the vote) beyond this the meeting took a very confusing turn when it was decided that although Plan A was to keep the strike going, there would be a vote on a Plan B as well. Plan B involved letting fishermen go out for one day on Saturday to check their gear, which hasn’t been hauled since at least April 27.

Aside from questions over whether just licence holders should be permitted to vote on this, or whether crewmembers should be allowed to vote as well, others questioned why such a vote was happening at all. Would fishermen be landing their catch and selling it? The vote, it turned out, was basically split down the middle with 97 people saying they wanted to go out for one day to tend to their gear and 87 people saying they didn’t want to go fishing at all.

Some said going out to haul gear, even for just one day, defeated the purpose of the strike. Others said fishermen were fishing anyway so the strike couldn’t achieve the desired outcome.

Even Mood, as the issue of whether to go for one day or not was being debated, had to admit, “This is very confusing.” But at the end of the meeting he was more definitive. “We are on strike,” he proclaimed.

Yet even as the meeting adjourned, fishermen were still confused as to what the meeting had accomplished, and even what the strike itself had accomplished, given that boats in parts of LFA34, not to mention neigbouring LFA 33, are fishing anyway. (There are 1,688 licence holders in LFAs 33 and 34, which is where the association draws its name from.) Many fishermen lingered around the Mariners Centre afterwards, trying to make sense of the meeting.

Said one fisherman outside the arena to this reporter following the meeting, “What is your headline going to be? Dazed and confused?”

Postings to the 1688 Facebook page later in the evening didn’t seem to help make things any clearer. While the association said the majority of people at the meeting had voted for the strike to continue, it said people should go fishing for the rest of the season because the strike had lost its effectiveness. But then in another post the 1688 association said it will continue to support the strike. 

“…but as leaders of this group we feel with the price currently being a fair rate of $5 it was in the best interest to fish. We wanted a fair price and have it right now,” said the posting.

“Again yes the fishermen there tonight did vote in favor of striking, and again we support that and will continue too, but we feel since the majority of the fleet did go fishing today they would continue to do so, and in an effort to avoid community and co-worker hardship, we simply as a board recommend to fish while the price is $5. It is simply a recommendation,” the 1688 association said in its posting. “We ultimately support the fishermen who voted and will continue to watch the price closely. We feel that we made huge strides the past week and have proved that we have power and that this will give us much negotiating power (in) the upcoming summer months leading into the fall.”

For some it left them baffled. Said one poster on the page, “How in the world can 1688 say "we strongly urge you to fish" and "we continue to support the strike,” all in the same thread? Absurd. Absolutely absurd.”

One thing the 1688 association said at Friday's meeting is it does not condone any of the acts of vandalism and harassment that have occurred in some areas during the strike. These actions have even caused the RCMP to up its presence in southwestern Nova Scotia over the past few days.

Mood told fishermen that such behavior is wrong and those that have engaged in it should apologize.

“We’re all in this together and if we’re going to do something we have to take care of one another. It is not about me and I, is about we and us . . . You’ve got to forget about ever holding revenge, revenge is not sweet,” said Mood. “Remember you live in small communities and these threats that you’ve made, and I’m not pointing the finger, I don’t know who made the threats, is wrong. Because you’re going to look at that guy that you made that threat to and you’re going to see him every day and you’re going to feel very ashamed.”

Towards the end of the meeting fisherman Sandy Stoddard came to the microphone to speak.

“There’s a lot of confused people here tonight, really, really confused about what we’re actually doing here. ‘Have we accomplished anything?’ is the biggest question that I’ve been hearing in the crowd,” he said. Still, Stoddard said the fishermen have proved that they can stand together. Although some people went fishing anyway, he said you’ll never get 100 per cent unity on any issue, whether its fishing related or not. 

But he cautioned people to look ahead to towards preparing for the fall when fishermen are going to have to unite again to ensure that they receive what they consider to be a fair price for their catches. He suggested that not letting people go out to tend to their gear might turn these people off from standing united in another fight.

“If you go now and finish your spring out, you’ve shown the dealers that you can stand together, and then when it comes fall, long before the fall, you look at them and say we want a fair price before we start lobstering. All I can say is be careful what you do, it’s your choice,” he said. “You’ve proved your point, please don’t lose it.”

Asked about planning ahead for the fall season, Mood was very quiet as the meeting drew to a close. As he gathered up his things and walked towards the door he didn’t talk about the game plan for the fall lobster season, telling this newspaper, instead, in a low voice, “I really wanted to get them something for the spring. I really did.”






Organizations: Professional Lobster Fishermen Association, Mariners Centre

Geographic location: Yarmouth, Canada, LFA34

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