FISH-NL on Friday’s protest


The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) describes the protest Friday at the headquarters of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans as a warning of rising unrest within the fishing industry.

“Desperate times in the fishery lead to desperate measures,” says Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL. “We do not condone violence or civil unrest, but some harvesters around the province are being pushed to the breaking point and have been openly talking about it for months.”

“The federal government must realize that the crisis in the fishery today is unprecedented — worse than the groundfish moratoria of the early 1990s — because in most cases harvesters have no other species to turn to.”

The Friday protest in St. John’s involved members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Independent Fish Harvesters’ Association, who stormed the DFO building in White Hills. That group was formed a few years ago by shrimp harvesters who aren’t happy with their representation by the FFAW.

“The federal government has mismanaged fish stock after fish stock, and they’ve fallen like dominos,” says Cleary. “But the FFAW has also failed its membership and all of rural Newfoundland and Labrador by failing to hold the Government of Canada to account.”

FISH-NL is scheduled to meet in Ottawa Tuesday with the province’s Members of Parliament to discuss the fishery crisis and ways to address it.

The northern shrimp quota in waters off the Great Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador (the fishing zone most inshore harvesters are most reliant on) was slashed last month by 62.6 per cent — to 10,400 tonnes this year from as high as 48,000 tonnes two years ago.

The total allowable catch for snow crab is also down 22 per cent compared to 2016. The biggest hit area is fishing zone 3L, east of the Avalon Peninsula, where the bulk of the quota is harvested. The quota there has been cut by 26 per cent, down to less than 25,000 tonnes.

DFO is also considering closing the herring fishery off the province’s east coast this spring.

Areas such as Newfoundland’s south coast (fishing zone 3Ps) have experienced a collapse of crab and lobster stocks. The cod quota there is also expected to be cut in the coming weeks.

While the northern cod stock is showing signs of improvement and some harvesters are calling for increased quota, the price per pound last year averaged 60 cents — not enough to carry harvesters over the shellfish hump.

FISH-NL has called on the provincial government to allow out-of-province buyers into the provincial marketplace, but the request has so far fallen on deaf ears.

Ryan Cleary