The Cape Breton blockade that kept some boats from fishing

If they couldn't get their usual amount of fish, no one would.

Cod fishers were protesting limits in 1993 by preventing other boats from going out

Blockade in Cape Breton

28 years ago
Angered by the cod limits in the fishery, longliners block redfish boats from heading out to make their catch. 2:17

If they couldn't get their usual amount of fish, no one would.

On Sept. 24, 1993, cod fishers upset with limits on how much fish they could catch took action in Glace Bay on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island.

"They want the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to reverse its decision to shut down all longline fishing," explained the CBC's Carol Anne Drake.

To that end, she explained, they had "built a blockade" and arranged their boats in the harbour so that the two draggers, which caught a different species of fish not under restrictions, could not leave.

Unfair all around

"I can't understand what they're trying to prove by blocking our boats in," said a worker at a fish plant affected by the blockade. (1st Edition/CBC Archives)

"It's just not fair," said a fisherman who favoured the blockade, noting that one sector of the fleet was allowed to work while another wasn't.

Drake said the DFO claimed cod fishers were catching "up to 2,500 to 3,500 pounds of cod per trip" when their quota was just 500 pounds. That was why they had put a stop to the in-shore cod fleet.

"They have to know that the draggers are fishing different species ... and that they are keeping that plant going, on-shore workers busy and so on," said the DFO's Fred Allen. 

Greg Mitchelitis, manager of the Clearwater Fine Foods fish plant, said only 0.5 per cent of his boats' catch was cod, haddock or anything other than the redfish they were licensed to catch. (1st Edition/CBC Archives)

The fish plant manager, Greg Mitchelitis, told Drake about 170 workers were thrown out of work by not having unrestricted fish to process due to the blockade.

"We're fishing red fish and that's a very clean fishery. You get strictly redfish," he said. "We're not catching codfish." 

The blockade continues

Cape Breton blockade grows

28 years ago
Fish plant workers say the 1993 blockade is depriving them of an income. 1:15

"It started with eight boats," said the CBC's Laurie Graham, picking up the story three days later. "Now it's up to about 40."

By then, the workers at the Highland fish plant had organized a protest of their own.

"Who the hell are they, to tell us that we can't work?" a woman was heard asking a group of fellow employees assembled outside the plant.

Some of them had made signs directed at the longliners nearby, and George Gibbs described their actions as "illogical."

'It's my livelihood'

"It's basically all I've ever done and it's what I would like to continue doing," said a longliner fisherman protesting the cod limits. (1st Edition/CBC Archives)

"They can't work if the draggers can't fish, and they want the longliners to stop the blockade," said Graham.

But to the longliners, they had been left with no other options to make their frustrations known to the DFO.

"It's my livelihood. It's all I've ever done," said cod fisher Bruce Strong. "If I lose my boat I could possibly lose my home, my vehicle ... it's very important."

According to further reporting by CBC, the Clearwater Fine Foods fish plant twice made applications for an injunction that would stop the blockade and was turned down twice by a judge in Sydney, N.S.

The blockade came to an end after 15 days and a "small concession" from the DFO.

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