Nfld. & Labrador

Crab fishery delayed until at least May 11, following days of protests

Fish harvesters in N.L. were blocking crab from outside the province from being processed saying plants are unsafe for workers — a claim Ocean Choice International says isn't true.

Ocean Choice CEO denies union claim plants are unsafe

Police tell demonstrators in Clarenville to move out of the way, shortly before the truck gets on its way. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

After two days of protests by fish harvesters, the snow crab fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador has been delayed until at least May 11. 

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans issued a media release at 5 p.m. Tuesday saying the exact start of the season has not yet been determined. 

That delay comes after several days of protests in several different locations in the province. 

The protests started late Sunday in Port aux Basques when the Fish, Food & Allied Workers union, which represents fish harvesters, learned snow crab was being brought in from outside the province to be processed.

Late Tuesday afternoon, two transport trucks were able to offload crab at the Ocean Choice International plant in the central Newfoundland community of Triton, after some fish harvesters had initially blocked the trucks. 

Another blockade in South Brook prevented the same trucks from moving to their destination, but RCMP officers cleared it late Tuesday morning after OCI filed court injunctions to allow the trucks to proceed.

Fish harvesters continued to follow the trucks toward Triton and then stopped the trucks from entering the plant.

OCI president Blaine Sullivan told CBC News the atmosphere relaxed in Triton after fish harvesters were able to say their piece. Sullivan said anxiety is high as the COVID-19 pandemic takes aim at all industries.

"I think they made their point, they felt they made their point, and they left me with a few takeaways to work on," Sullivan said. 

"On both sides, processors, fishermen, we're really all in this together and it's a difficult year to operate. So I think they wanted to be heard and express that."

Price and safety are top concerns: union

In a news release Tuesday, the FFAW said harvesters are waiting on a price to be set for crab and plant workers' concerns about coronavirus safety have not been satisfied.

"To date, most processing companies have not consulted with joint workplace occupational health and safety committees on their plans, as mandated by the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act." 

Martin Sullivan, OCI's CEO, said the company has been working with government officials on a plans "to meet the most stringent safety guidelines."

"If we feel we cannot have a safe workplace we will not operate our plants. It is that simple. We have shared our plans with the union and we have also provided our employees our plans," said Sullivan.

John Boland of the Fish, Food & Allied Workers Union says people were blocking the trucks from moving because 'it was crab that was being shipped in from the mainland while our own fishermen are tied on.' (Garrett Barry/CBC)

In Clarenville, a transport truck that fishermen believe is full of out-of-province crab moved back onto the highway at about 1:30 p.m.

FFAW representatives told the demonstrators on site that an injunction granted in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador prevented vehicles from blocking its path any further.

The vehicle had been in Clarenville since early Monday. It is reportedly destined for the Terra Vista processing plant in Glovertown.

FFAW representative John Boland said fishermen are concerned about safety in the industry, and about the financial viability of the fishery this season.

"We were blocking it … because it was crab that was being shipped in from the mainland while our own fishermen are tied on," he said. 

Concerns about selling

Some harvesters are worried that — in part due to delays in the fishery opening — they won't be able to sell all their catch.

"Most years that crab was welcome into Newfoundland — in normal times and in a normal world — because it provides great benefit to our province and to a lot of our plant workers," Boland explained. "But this year now, we're all lined up with limited market, and it means also less crab for the harvesters." 

Boland said it's also not yet safe for plant workers to go back to work, and he's asking for the provincial government to step in, noting the message from the province's health minister and chief medical officer is for people to stay home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"And it seems like for whatever reason on the provincial government's side, that applies to everyone except people in the fishing industry. We must be expendable." 

Dorreta Strickland works at the fish processing plant in Triton. She stood before the protestors on Tuesday saying that the plant depends on Prince Edward Island crab to operate. 

"Maybe some people here today don't understand that we do 95 per cent of crab from P.E.I. and we need it. Because if we don't [the plant] is going to close," she said.

"And we need you fellows, too. We need one another ... If we don't stand together, we're going down.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jane Adey, Garrett Barry and Troy Turner

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