A decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to deviate from an established halibut quota sharing arrangement will have a deep impact on fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador, and greatly benefit harvesters in Prince Edward Island, the home province of Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, a union leader says. 

Keith Sullivan, president of the St. John's-based Fish, Food and Allied Workers' union, described the decision as a "callous, calculated and desperate" move by the federal Conservatives to win votes in the Maritime provinces.

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The Gulf of St. Lawrence Atlantic halibut quota is going up by 20 per cent.

"It's like taking bread from the table of hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians just to buy votes in other parts of Canada," Sullivan said.

DFO has announced that the total allowable catch (TAC) for Atlantic halibut in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, known as NAFO Division 4RST, will increase by 20 per cent.

The first 864 tonnes of the quota will be distributed based on the established quota sharing arrangement, with harvesters based in Western Newfoundland receiving 32 per cent.

But the additional 172.8 tonnes announced Thursday will be shared equally between the eight regional inshore fixed gear fleets in the Gulf, meaning Newfoundland's overall share of the quota will drop to roughly 24 per cent.

Sullivan said there is "no justification" for departing from the sharing agreement.

In 2014, P.E.I. harvesters were permitted 24.8 tonnes, while the TAC for 2015 is nearly doubled to 46.38 tonnes.

The quota for Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters will increase to 254.47 tonnes, which is 22 tonnes more than last year, but far less than what the total could have been if the previous formula remained intact.

Fisherman says he will defy the law

Parsons Pond fisherman Earle Keough said he was "shocked" by the decision, and vowed to "catch whatever it takes" to make a living, even if that means breaking the law.

'It's like taking bread from the table of hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians just to buy votes in other parts of Canada' - FFAW president Keith Sullivan

"It's better to die than live like a dog," he said.

Sullivan said the decision is a blow to the Newfoundland fleet, since harvesters depend very heavily on the halibut fishery.

"Times have been hard," he said.

Vaughn Granter, Newfoundland the Labrador's fisheries minister, said the new arrangement takes quota away from harvesters in his province, and gives it to their counterparts in the Maritimes.

Granter said it's the latest in a series of actions by the federal government that has had a negative impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. 

He said it's "totally unacceptable" that DFO ignored the established sharing arrangement.

"This is strictly a political decision, in an election year, to provide for a disproportionate increase in halibut allocation to [Shea's] home province of Prince Edward Island," Granter stated.

Kevin Stringer, DFO's assistant deputy minister for ecosystems and fisheries management, said the new quota was established following consultations with the Gulf groundfish committee in March.

Stringer refused to comment on suggestions that the decision was politically motivated, but defended the new quota, saying "the decision was that nobody loses anything."

N.L. still a big player

He called it the new quota a "substantive increase," and emphasized that the fleets that have had the largest share of the quota, including Newfoundland harvesters, will continue to hold that distinction. 

"At the end of the day there were a number of fleets that wanted to see a one-eighth share of the increase," he said.

"The objective was to ensure that everybody gets an increase, to ensure it's done fairly, and the decision came out the way it did."

It's the second time that Shea has reduced the province's halibut quota.

The first cut dame during her first term as fisheries minister in 2009, but that decision was reversed by her successor, Keith Ashfield, in 2011, which resulted in the current sharing formula, based on historical landings.

"The reduction in the share of halibut to Newfoundland and Labrador is an attack on the viability of enterprises that are most in need," Sullivan said.

"West coast harvesters have some of the lowest earning opportunities from the fisheries and are heavily dependent upon Atlantic halibut."

With files from Jamie Baker and Leigh Anne Power