Nfld. & Labrador

'Put the crab back on the table,' frustrated fishermen chant at rally

Hundreds of fishermen and plant workers filled a downtown St. John's hotel Wednesday to rally against what they called poor decision-making by federal fisheries managers. 

DFO closes White Hills building as a 'precautionary measure'

Union members flooded the streets of St. John's to protest what they're calling unfair treatment by the fisheries department. (CBC)

Hundreds of fishermen and plant workers filled a downtown St. John's hotel — and then downtown streets of St. John's — to rally Wednesday against what they called poor decision-making by federal fisheries managers.

Even before unionized fisheries workers took to the streets for a march, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed its main building as a pre-emptive security measure. 

70 per cent [of the fishable stock] will be gone. So what will we have to operate?- Harvester Alton Rumbolt

"Seamus, Seamus, if you're able, put the crab back on the table," members of the Fish Food and Allied Workers union chanted during a midday rally at the Delta Hotel's main ballroom, referring to federal cabinet representative Seamus O'Regan. 

As many as 600 people had crowded into the meeting, organized by FFAW-Unifor, incensed by what the union sees as a lack of willingness from DFO to in good faith discuss quotas that have been steadily reduced in recent years.

"We could have a 30 per cent cut this year, and a 40 next year —  70 per cent will be gone. So what will we have to operate in the community?" asked Alton Rumbolt, a fisherman and mayor of Mary's Harbour.

Union members are decrying quota decreases, saying the fisheries department isn't listening to concerns about how that will affect their livelihoods and communities. (CBC)

Rumbolt argued that harvesters have a common interest in maintaining healthy stocks.

"But let's do it in a way that we all benefit at the end of the day," he told the crowd, raising cheers and applause.

'Shut out' by DFO

Union director Greg Pretty, who led the meeting, said DFO has roundly ignored members, and accused the department of "excluding" harvesters from consultation.

"Our union needs a seat at the table," he said. "I've heard for the last month or so about DFO meetings that don't take into consideration what you're going through, don't take into consideration what your actual fishing experience is."

He added: "We have investments, we have lives to live. There's communities that have to be looked after and taken care of."

Harvesters are concerned about quota cuts handed down by the DFO that they say aren't necessary to keep stocks healthy. (CBC)

Others at the meeting called for political action.

"We need a change of government because we aren't being listened to," said Dwight Petten, who fishes from Port de Grave in Conception Bay.

"We're being shut out by DFO."

The union led its members on a march through downtown St. John's, ending at the Baine Johnston building off Duckworth Street, where O'Regan has his ministerial office. 

Rick Kean drove to the rally from New-Wes-Valley in hopes it would provoke an end to quota decreases.

"We're taking cuts that we shouldn't have to take right now. I think the minister should sit down with some of the fishermen and listen to what they're trying to say," he said.

"The science is not saying we got to take a cut, it's only management that wants to cut … we're trying to rebuild the stocks," Kean said.

"DFO is making their own decisions in their own offices."

During a fiery speech, FFAW president Keith Sullivan said he would love to tell his members that DFO is listening, but added everyone would know that is untrue.

An estimated 600 protesters rallied in St. John's Wednesday. (CBC)

Sullivan called out all of the province's seven MPs, as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

While cuts to crab quotas have drawn fire from FFAW members, union members also want action on the reinstatement of a commercial cod fishery and a seal cull. 

The crowd rose to a standing ovation twice over the issue of seals. With one of them, Sullivan asked his members to make some noise if they thought seals were a serious issue. 

DFO closes building in White Hills

DFO closed its White Hills building around 11:30 a.m. as a "precautionary measure," saying it had to make decisions about the safety and security of employees.

"This is a challenging time for the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador and as in some years past, there will be those who will wish to express their concerns through protest activities," read a DFO statement.

"While there are no protesters at the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre at this time, protests can create a dynamic situation."

In 2017, protesters smashed through windows and doors at DFO's building before entering and making their way through the halls.

"We recognize the right of individuals to voice their concerns in a peaceful and respectful manner," DFO said in its statement.

"Our first priority, however, remains the well-being of our employees and the security of government of Canada property and assets."

Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he takes harvesters' concerns to heart, but pushed back at the accusation that the DFO is moving ahead with quota cuts without input from those with experience in the industry.

In stock assessment discussions, he said, "about a third of the people around the table were fish harvesters."

The DFO has focused on beefing up the department's science and research capabilities, Wilkinson added, with more money funneled into stock assessment improvement.

"It does us no good today to take measures that are going to impair the long-term sustainability of the fishery, because the long-term socioeconomic impact is going to be far worse," he said.

"So we need to make sure we're thinking about the longer term, and being as sensitive as we possibly can be to the short term.

"And that's a difficult process."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from Mark Quinn and Todd O'Brien

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