FISH-NL 'weeks away' from financial collapse in battle for support of inshore harvesters

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FISH-NL 'weeks away' from financial collapse in battle for support of inshore harvesters

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador has launched a desperate plea for financial help amid a costly battle to try and represent inshore harvesters in the province.

One union leader said FISH-NL is "weeks away" from financial collapse, which would effectively end the group's fight for certification.

"We're down to death's door in the bank account," said FISH-NL vice-president Richard Gillett.

"We're weeks away ... and maybe even sooner than that."

Gillett said harvesters need to get behind the effort "in short order."

FFAW trying to 'crush' FISH-NL

FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary said the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union is trying to "crush" his group by dragging out the legal process and driving up costs.

"We don't want to lose this because of money," Cleary told reporters during a briefing in St. John's Tuesday morning.

FISH-NL is asking all harvesters to contribute at least $50, for enterprise owners in the under-40 fleet to donate $100, and for those in the 40-and-over fleet to give $150.

The group has been waging a months-long grassroots campaign to unseat the powerful FFAW as the union representing inshore harvesters in the province.

It held a membership drive last fall, signing up 2,372 harvesters, and is now trying to convince the Labour Relations Board that it has enough support to trigger a certification vote.

Cleary said the group has already spent "tens of thousands" on legal and other costs, and he expects that figure could top $100,000, which is the minimum target in the fundraising campaign launched Tuesday.

Rival not prepared, says FFAW

The next battle will take place on Friday, when FISH-NL goes before the board to argue for the release of the FFAW's membership list.

The FFAW is opposed to the release of the list, arguing that it would be a breach of privacy. On Tuesday, the union said FISH-NL's decision to solicit funds is an added reason to keep names private.

"I think Ryan Cleary and FISH-NL have demonstrated incompetency from the beginning," said FFAW president Keith Sullivan.

Sullivan said the group initiated the challenge and should have known the "due diligence" involved.

"They're ill prepared in this and I think that would translate in being ill prepared to represent thousands and thousands of harvesters in the province," he said.

A fundraising drive last fall helped FISH-NL raise some $18,000 for a media campaign.

The question now is whether the group can convince harvesters to open their wallets once again in the face of dwindling stocks, and what some are saying is an impending crisis in the fishing industry.

"Don't look at it as just giving money. Look at it as you're giving money for the future," said Gillett.