Newfoundland fishing union threatens at-sea protest over petroleum drilling

Published on
July 24, 2023
The Hercules oil rig, which will be operated for petroleum activity in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

The Fish Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada is threatening to engage in an at-sea protest as drill operations by ExxonMobil are scheduled to commence during the fishing season. 

FFAW said conflict is brewing after the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) approved drilling activity by the Hercules drill rig in the Jeanne d'Arc Basin, which the union called the prime fishing ground in the 3L region. The drilling, the FFAW President Greg Pretty said, will be in direct conflict with harvesters trying to salvage what’s left of a difficult year punctuated by a late start. 

“Our members feel this brewing spatial conflict is representative of the continuous disregard for the fishing industry. Expansion of the oil and gas industry needs to be considered alongside the fishery, not in priority to it,” Pretty said in a release.

The crab fishing season in Newfoundland and Labrador got a late start after a six-week standoff over pricing led harvesters to stay tied at the dock until 19 May – over a month after the fishery opened on 10 April. Now, fishermen have to contend with potential petroleum drilling activity in part of the fishing grounds.

FFAW said the union has made the petroleum board aware of the conflicts, but the project has pressed on regardless despite widespread concerns. 

“Providing little to no advance of drilling programs, their precise location and associated safety zones is not considered a mitigative measure and there should be no expectation that fish harvesters will willingly alter fishing plans to prevent space-use conflicts,” FFAW Executive Board Member Nelson Bussey – who fishes in the affected region – said. “Time and time again our historical fishing rights have not been factored into the oil and gas growth equation. The C-NLOPB has allowed offshore exploration activities to occur in areas with significant recent history of intensive fishing effort.”  

The FFAW sent a letter to the board claiming the input they give has been completely ignored.

“FFAW contends, time and time again, that historical fishing rights have not been factored into the oil and gas growth equation,” the letter states. “The board has allowed offshore exploration activities to occur in areas with a significant recent history of intensive fishing effort.”

Pretty said that if the situation continues, the FFAW and fishermen may have to take more action.

“The continuous disregard for our industry can happen no more,” he said. “Harvesters are extremely frustrated and feel an at-sea protest may be the only way forward in sending the message our membership will not allow the C-NLOPB to enable one industry growth at the expense of another.”

The threats of protest occur as Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans extends the crab season for a third time.

The department announced on 18 July that it is extending crab fishing in all crab fishing areas in NAFO sub-Division 3Ps –10A, 10B, 11S, 11W, and 11E. The fishery will now close on 28 July, rather than 21 July. It also announced that the season for NAFO Division 3K areas 3B, 3BC, 3C, 3D, and Area 4 has also been extended to 28 July.

Then, on 20 July, the DFO announced that it also extended crab fishing in NAFO divisions 3LNO, applying exclusively to the small supplementary and 8Bx south areas. Fishing in this area will also now close on 29 July.

FFAW Director of Public Affairs Courtney Glode told SeafoodSource earlier this month that the union will continue to request extensions as long as there is a quota available. 

“We’ve requested longer extensions and will continue to do so as long as the resource remains in good condition, to harvest and process NL’s full quota,” Glode said.

As of the latest data available on 21 July, the fishery had caught 41,035 metric tons (MT) of crab across all divisions, still short of the 54,305 MT still available. While that is 6,120 MT more than caught as of 10 July, at that catch rate quota will still be left in the water as of complete closure on 29 July.

Photo courtesy of Odfjell Drilling

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