City councillor Joy Thorkelson has been elected as president of the United Fishermen and Workers Union UNIFOR (UFAWU-UNIFOR).
The 62nd bi-annual UFAWU-UNIFOR convention took place on Dec. 2 at the Fisherman’s Hall in Prince Rupert where approximately 20 fishermen and other stakeholders gathered to take stock of the industry. Thorkelson was previously the union’s northern representative, and will now being taking on a broader leadership role as the UFAWU-UNIFOR moves ahead with its plans over the next 12 months to lobby the federal government about issues affecting its members.
Thorkelson said that while the province is interested in working for fishermen on the West Coast, the federal government is not focusing enough on the issues that affect those in B.C. who make a living from fishing.
“We are really trying to let this minister know that…the people that are doing all the work, the fishermen and the shoreworkers…are becoming poorer and poorer,” she said. “And its time the minister took an interest in this coast, as well as the East Coast.”
The group at Fisherman’s Hall connected via Skype with union chapters throughout the province. Together, they outlined the most pressing concerns affecting their livelihood. Among the concerns discussed were policies managing fish populations that restrict fishermen’s access to fish, and factors impacting the amount of money fishermen can make on their catches.
“Their incomes have been falling and that’s why we can’t attract new people to the industry [on the West Coast],” she said.
Thorkelson said the union plans to take these concerns across the province to get feedback from fishermen in other communities with the aim of presenting a refined document to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“We’re going to see if we can come up with a consensus on the coast from active fishermen about what needs to happen to make fisheries productive,” she said.
Thorkelson said she hopes to collect the feedback in the next 4-6 months, and have a document ready by the end of the summer in 2018.