The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans shut down its St. John's headquarters Thursday as about 18 fishermen set up camp outside to support a hunger striker.

The protest is a show of support for Richard Gillett, vice president of the Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters (FISH-NL) who has been drinking water, but eating no food, since April 13.

Gillett wants an independent review of science and DFO management for all fish stocks as well as a phone call with federal fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc.

Father's pain

John Gillett said watching his son, who is diabetic, starve himself "is breaking my heart."

'I don't approve of what he is doing, but I approve of the cause.' - John Gillett

"He's a determined fellow and I am very, very worried. I'm leaving to go home today because I can't … [crying] … I'm sorry, I can't watch it," said an emotional Gillett.

Gillett said his son is determined to speak with the fisheries minister about the effect quota cuts are having on harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"After he travelled to Ottawa right in the building, right alongside of [the minister], and he didn't even have the courtesy to come out and talk to Richard just for five or 10 minutes," he said.

"I don't approve of what he is doing, but I approve of the cause, because he's a sixth generation fisherman in our family and, as it stands right now, he's going to be booted out by politics and by idiots who's running the fishery."

John Gillett

John Gillett, a fisherman from Twillingate, says it is hard to watch his son Richard continue on his hunger strike. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"We're fighting for the future for me and for the people who's coming behind me," said Matthew Snelgrove, who travelled to St. John's Thursday from Grates Cove.

"A lot of fishermen are naive. The cut haven't hit them yet," said Snelgrove, who is dealing with a lower crab and herring quota.

"We're just trying to get our point across." 

Playing politics

It appears as though Wednesday's announcement that DFO scientists will begin a five-year review of northern cod stocks has further incited protesters.

Ryan Cleary, FISH-NL president, said the review was suggested by MP Scott Simms — who is trying to mediate an end to the hunger strike — as a measure that might satisfy Gillett.

"Next thing you know, it's a press release," he said, with FISH-NL rival, the Fish Food and Allied Workers Union, taking partial credit.

"He's not doing well and they are playing politics with a man's life ... When he says he's ready to die, he's not screwing around."

Ryan Cleary

Ryan Cleary, president of FISH-NL, said he has advised Gillett to give up his hunger strike, but said Gillett is stubborn. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

While Gillett may look like "a bull moose ... a big strapping fisherman," Clearly said he has serious health issues, including a heart condition.

He thinks the hunger strike should be stopped, but said Gillett is stubborn. 

2nd protest this month

According to John Gillett, any DFO workers who showed up Thursday have respected the picket line, and the protest has been a peaceful one.

This is the second such protest from the fishermen, who say they're unhappy about crab and inshore shrimp quota cuts.

At the previous protest, the group broke a door and some walked into the DFO building.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary confirmed DFO has filed a complaint to police about the April 11 incident.

With files from Cec Haire and the St. John's Morning Show