Nfld. & Labrador

No charges as protesters leave DFO HQ after smashing window, breaking into building

Police were called Friday to a protest at Fisheries and Oceans Canada headquarters in St. John's, as angry harvesters pushed their way into the building.

Harvesters from northeast coast want first crack at Area 6 shrimp

A group of shrimp fishermen kicked in a window and made their way into a DFO building in St. John's to protest quota cuts 1:27

Shrimp fishermen angry over cuts to their quotas and what they say is unfair access by others to their fishing grounds left DFO headquarters Friday, hours after smashing a window and storming the building.

Police were called Friday as members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Independent Fish Harvesters' Association pushed their way into Fisheries and Oceans Canada headquarters in St. John's.

Around 50 protesters went inside the federal building on White Hills Road, to protest against quota cuts for the province's inshore shrimp fishery.

By 10 a.m., protesters used their feet and signs to hit glass on double doors leading to the building, as security watched.

Members of the N.L. Independant Fish Harvesters Association block access to DFO headquarters on White Hills Road in St. John's Friday morning, to express frustration over recent shrimp quote cuts in the province. (Cecil Haire/CBC)

A bottom window in one of the doors smashed and the protesters managed to get inside and walk upstairs.

"They were looking for particular people, and particular offices," Jan Woodford, with DFO, told reporters as protesters remained inside the building.

"Several of our senior fisheries managers who were familiar with the concerns volunteered to meet with the protesters if they agreed to leave the secure part of the building." 

Some protesters left DFO feeling cautiously optimistic about the future of shrimp fishing in Newfoundland and Labrador. 1:57

Despite this, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said no charges will be laid. 

Sgt. Alex Brennan said the RNC were there for public safety reasons and allowed DFO and protesters to speak.

"There's no complaint at this point in time and we will not act unless there's a complaint," Brennan said.

Staff and protesters agreed to sit down in the building cafeteria for talks, which lasted about three hours.

As they were leaving the cafeteria at noon, some protesters told CBC that they had signed off on a statement from DFO saying it would take their views into consideration when deciding how quotas would be shared.

We're not going to make it. We're at death's door practically.- Terry Ryan, fisherman

The new quota for Area 6 off the northeast coast is 10,400 tonnes, less than a quarter of the 2015 quota of 48,196 tonnes.

Last year's quota was just under 28,000 tonnes.

Protesters told CBC they want first right to fish that quota because they live closest to it, and don't want to share with fleets from six other areas of Newfoundland, Saint Pierre and Miquelon and New Brunswick.

Terry Ryan, a shrimp fisherman from the Baie Verte Peninsula, says the protest is about fishers protecting their own fishing zone, Area 6, from outside harvesters. (CBC)

Terry Ryan, a shrimp fisherman from the Baie Verte Peninsula, said sharing the resource was OK before, but now he and others are speaking out to protect their own livihoods.

"We live on the northeast coast and southern Labrador, and that's where shrimp fishing Area 6 is," he said.

"Now since shrimp has gone into sharp decline, it's gotten to the point where if we don't change the internal sharing arrangements, we're not going to make it. We're at death's door practically.

DFO staff frightened

While the department respects people's right to protest, Woodford said DFO also has a responsibility to protect its staff and property.

"In these situations our primary concern is the safety of our people, as well as our building and assets," she said.

Woodford said usually DFO staff would not engage with protestors, but in this case they entered the offices and were targeting specific people. So the decision was made to sit down with them in the building's cafeteria for discussions, if they agreed to leave the office area.

She said the conversation was calm and collected in the cafeteria. However she said some protesters did break in through the security doors in the upstairs part of the building and were calling out to specific DFO members who were in their offices.

With files from Cecil Haire