Aquaculture industry not delivering for workers, says FFAW

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Aquaculture industry not delivering for workers, says FFAW

A union representing fish plant workers in Newfoundland and Labrador is calling on the provincial government to institute processing regulations on aquaculture operations, in an effort to secure work at local plants.

The FFAW is proposing that aquaculture grow-outs be required to process their fish at plants in the province; the union says much of the processing work coming out of aquaculture operations on Newfoundland's south coast is now being done in New Brunswick.

"It's not good enough just to use our pristine waters to grow fish, and then take it out to another province, it's ludicrous!" said Greg Pretty, the union's industrial director. "And people are hurting because of this policy," 

Fish plant workers in St. Alban's learned this month that their workplace will not be opening this year. That leaves longtime workers, like Bernadette Bowles, wondering how they'll get by.

That plant, owned by the Barry Group, processes farmed salmon grown by Marine Harvest.

Pretty said workers at a plant in neighbouring Harbour Breton are also struggling to get full-time hours. He calls that proof that public investments into the aquaculture industry are not paying off.

"When we struggle to get 26 hours' work in Harbour Breton, our fish leaves the Connaigre Peninsula and goes to New Brunswick. It's madness and it has to stop," Pretty said.

"If we can't have meaningful jobs from aquaculture, we shouldn't have it. Period." 

In an interview with CBC News, Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne pledged the government would take steps to try to increase employment on the south coast.

Byrne said there's broad support for increasing a minimum processing requirement for farmed Atlantic salmon.

"I consulted with the FFAW and the community at large," he said. "The next stage, of course, is to look at what regulations need to be in put in place, to ensure maximum employment in the area."

The minister said government will take steps to ensure the St. Alban's plant opens for work again. Government has also offered funding for make-work projects under a community enhancement fund.

"What we'll do, is we'll make every measure possible to, not just wait three years, I want to see that plant opened and operating next year."

Valuable industry

Pretty said there is money in aquaculture production — it's just not going to plant workers.

"It's probably the most lucrative fishery in the province right now. One salmon, $90! And can't produce, can't produce 52 weeks a year. I'm stunned by it."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador