Inshore fish harvesters and community leaders turned up the heat Thursday, as advisors to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) met to consider cuts to northern shrimp quotas.

"This is about survival of our communities," said Bill Broderick, inshore director of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW).

Broderick told a rally at the Bella Vista in St. John's that federal decision makers can make the choice to protect smaller vessels instead of factory freezer trawlers.

Both fleets have a quota in Area 6, where a recent survey shows a 40 per cent decline in shrimp stocks.

Playing the 'local' card

Under current DFO rules, the inshore vessels would be the first to lose quota under a last in, first out (LIFO) policy.

"Our worst nightmare," said FFAW president Keith Sullivan, calling LIFO a "bullshit policy."

Sullivan said the quota could fall to 14 million pounds, compared to 131 million pounds in 2009, and he predicted "devastation" for coastal communities.

shrimp rally

Hundreds rallied in St. john's to demand protection for the inshore shrimp fishery. (CBC)

Sullivan has called the factory trawlers a "corporate offshore sector" run by interests outside Canada, and called on Ottawa to protect traditional harvesters who are adjacent to the resource.

"Is somebody going to tell me that businessmen from Iceland or Denmark are the ones who should benefit from it? Is it a doctor from Nova Scotia who should get access to the resource?"

Lana Payne, Atlantic director of Unifor, called it a "no brainer" for the federal government.

"At the heart of this struggle is how we share our fisheries resources and who benefits from them," said Payne.

"Do we as citizens of this province benefit from them, or do foreign national corporations benefit from them?"

Shrimp 'our lifeline'

"This is all family, the biggest family reunion I've ever had," said fish harvester Heather Starkes, who lives in Gander. 

Heather Starkes, inshore harvester

Heather Starkes, a fish harvester who lives in Gander, made an emotional speech to the rally, calling the shrimp fishery her "lifeline." (CBC)

Starkes said her family has fished for 37 years, and wants to keep it that way.

"I don't want to leave this industry. I'm not ready for a pink slip," said Starkes.

"On the northeast coast, shrimp is our lifeline. If we lose the shrimp, we have nothing left."

An emotional Starkes said she would have to be dragged "kicking and screaming" from the fishery. She added harvesters contribute a lot of money to the local economy.

'At the heart of this struggle is how we share our fisheries resources and who benefits from them.' - Lana Payne

"Two of my boats this year, I put $40,000 into Dominion [supermarket], I put $200,000 into an oil company to put fuel in my boat," she said. "I spent over $20,000 for insurance."

Gander Mayor Claude Elliott said 85 per cent of retail sales in his town come from people who live in surrounding communities.

Cutting the inshore would mean less money for people who go to larger centres to spend money, said Elliott.

"So all of us who live inland, Grand Falls-Windsor, Corner Brook, Clarenville and the city of St. John's, if we think this is not going to affect us, then you have your head in the sand," he said.

LIFO 'under review'

Newfoundland and Labrador's Minister of Fisheries Steve Crocker said Ottawa has agreed to review the LIFO policy, and all parties in the House of Assembly will "present a united front" to lobby for that.

"It's an issue that goes beyond political parties," said Crocker.

Avalon MP Ken McDonald told the rally a full assessment of the shrimp stock should be done by mid-April.

Federal Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo will consult with all stakeholders in the review, McDonald said, "so that the best possible outcomes are achieved for the future of the resources and the future of the people in adjacent communities."

The Canadian Association of Prawn Producers has argued the offshore shrimp sector is also important for the Newfoundland and Labrador economy, creating year-round, high-paying jobs on its vessels and more than 1,000 jobs onshore.