Nfld. & Labrador

FISH-NL VP protesting outside DFO in St. John's

Richard Gillett, the vice president of FISH-NL and a fish harvester from Twillingate, is camping outside DFO in St. John's in protest.

The protest prompted an evacuation of the DFO building Thursday afternoon

Richard Gillett has pitched a tent outside Fisheries and Oceans headquarters in St. John's. (Cec Haire/CBC)

The vice president of FISH-NL is camping outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans building in St. John's in protest.

Richard Gillett, a fish harvester from Twillingate, says he will stay outside the building — without food and drinking only water — until his two demands are met.

"I'm going to stay here as long as it takes to get a meeting with the minister of fisheries, and I'm prepared to go all the way on this one," he said.

Gillett is vice president of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), a group of fishermen trying to break away from the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union. FISH-NL is seeking to be ratified as the bargaining agent for the province's fish harvesters.

Gillett is requesting a meeting with federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, and an independent review of the relationship between DFO and the FFAW.

Gillett said if he gets a meeting with LeBlanc, he is going to ask for an independent review of science and management, too.

In recent weeks, DFO announced massive quota cuts for the region's two main commercial species, shrimp and crab, due to scientific advice showing both stocks are in trouble.

Gillett says what the fish harvesters see on the water and what DFO reports don't match.

"In a lot of cases, what we're seeing on the water … and what they're saying is in the water, is 180 degrees in the difference."

Gillett blames management problems for the state of the fishery, which he said is the worst he's seen it in his 32-year career.

"At the last meeting, I never felt so disgusted, so depressed and confused about the fishing industry overall," he said.

"This is why we're asking for an independent investigation into the science and management … if you're doing good management, you shouldn't be [at a] critical level."

Gillett said he also takes issue with DFO using FFAW members as the voice of the fishing industry.

"It seems like the numbers are portrayed as the majority, but if you only got five or six in a room for a meeting, is that the majority?"

"This spring they talked about shutting down the spring herring fishery. They had two fishermen in Bonavista Bay recommend to shut it down. Is that the majority?"

DFO evacuation 

​Gillett's protest prompted the evacuation of DFO's St. John's headquarters Thursday afternoon.

"We were advised through credible sources of potential protest activities planned for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre later today," a spokesperson for DFO confirmed to CBC.

"Given the protest action that took place ‎on April 7, we decided to close our building to minimize further impact on our employees."

The Easter long weekend will see the offices closed Friday and Monday. Normal operations will resume Tuesday, April 18.

With files from Here & Now