Fishermen on the south coast of Newfoundland say they are frustrated and angry that a significant halibut quota owned by the provincial government is being harvested by a Nova Scotia company and landed in Nova Scotia.

The quota — 130 tonnes of halibut in areas 3NOPs-4VWX, which covers all of the south and west coasts of Newfoundland — is one of the many fish quotas the province has leased annually since 2004 to Icewater Seafoods Inc. in Arnold's Cove to help fuel its operations.

But CBC Investigates and the Fisheries Broadcast recently revealed that Icewater has instead been subleasing it to an unnamed harvesting entity outside the province. 

Keith Hutchings, the province's fisheries and aquaculture minister, has said he is aware of the arrangement and it is a small price to pay for the 120 to 180 jobs that Icewater provides at its plant.

'I'm rotted over it. I'm rotted with the Newfoundland government and I'm rotted with the fishermen's union,' - Wayne Meade, harvester

That rationale isn't going over so well with fishermen in the south coast inshore under-65-foot fleet, who have about 60 tonnes of halibut to catch between all of them — less than half the provincial quota.

"I'm rotted over it. I'm rotted with the Newfoundland government and I'm rotted with the fishermen's union," harvester Wayne Meade told CBC News. 

"You go out there and watch Nova Scotia fellers come down and fish away at the halibut — and here, if we catch a halibut, we got to release it, let him go dead or alive. It's crazy."

"It's downright discrimination," said George Keeping, another 3Ps harvester. 

"How can a company that has been fishing here for 30 or 40 years have more rights to the fish than we got?"

By-catch a major issue

The harvesters say the way halibut is managed has become a huge problem. 

The sharing arrangements means other provinces can — and do — harvest the valuable fish in Newfoundland and Labrador waters, while fishermen here are forced to watch from shore. 

And then there's the issue with by-catch. The harvesters say they used to have an allowance for 10 per cent halibut by-catch, but have since lost it. Now when they catch halibut, they are forced to throw them back — and in some cases, the by-catch has slowed or shut down other fisheries.

Hutchings has said the province supports the fishermen's calls for appropriate by-catch levels, but that doesn't curb harvester frustrations.

"If they took that halibut quota that they sold to Nova Scotia and put it into 3Ps as a by-catch, there would be an extra $5- or $6-million worth of other fish caught by using this as a by-catch," Keeping said.

"This would allow us to go fishing for profit. There are 1,500 boats in 3Ps and if we had to share up the halibut they give us, we wouldn't get enough for everyone to cook for their dinner. 

"And you can see these towns is what's going to suffer — outport Newfoundland is going to die and we're going to lose our heritage as Newfoundlanders."

Another question is how much Newfoundland and Labrador is losing in processing value with the halibut being landed in Nova Scotia. Hutchings has said the benefits are negligible given that the fish is landed in a largely unprocessed, "head on, gutted" form, and sent directly into the U.S. market.

Meade says he doesn't buy it.

"We survived on fish for 500 years. There was a profit into [it] then. Why isn't there a profit into it now?" he said.

"You go into Sobeys and see how much you got to pay for a fish, and look at a feller then and tell him there's no profit in processing fish here in Newfoundland."

Deal runs until 2024

The quota is one of several attached to the Icewater deal. They were previously owned by National Sea Products.

The provincial government acquired the quotas in June 2004 in what was called a resource "repatriation" move, geared to keep the plant in Arnold's Cove operating under a new company called Icewater.

The province told CBC that the deal signed in 2004 between the province and Icewater is scheduled to continue until 2024.

The quotas involved include everything from halibut and cod to turbot, haddock, and flounder, and they are listed under a government-owned entity called the Newfoundland and Labrador Industrial Development Corporation (NLIDC). 

Under the terms of the deal, Icewater pays the province $50,000 per year to lease the quotas. The province now estimates the entire suite of quotas to be valued between $16 and $20 million per year.

With files from Martine Blue