Nfld. & Labrador

Protesting fish harvesters shout 'We got no union!' outside Confederation Building

A protest involving 100 fish harvesters on Tuesday headed to Confederation Building after police urged the demonstrators to disperse from the St. John's headquarters of the Fish, Food & Allied Workers union.

Earlier Tuesday, about 100 were outside the union headquarters, RNC was on scene

Protesters made their way from FFAW headquarters to Confederation Building in St. John's on Tuesday afternoon. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

A protest involving about 100 fish harvesters marched to  Confederation Building Tuesday after police earlier urged demonstrators to disperse from the St. John's headquarters of the Fish, Food & Allied Workers union.

Tuesday's protest is the second in the last several days in which harvesters demanded action on several issues, including crab prices, trip limits and safety concerns related to COVID-19.

Numerous people in the seafood industry are wondering how they can safely adhere to mandatory physical distancing rules ordered by the chief medical officer of health. 

Protestors shouted "We got no union!" from the steps of Confederation Building. Harvesters have accused the union, and FFAW president Keith Sullivan, of not doing enough for them. 

That includes crab selling for $2.90 a pound. which harvesters say is far too low. 

CBC News has learned that Sullivan and other union officials are preparing an application to increase the wharf price and that a higher price could come by the end of the week. 

For the second time in four days, fish harvesters, including Ronnie Bidgood, took to the Fish, Food & Allied Workers union headquarters in St. John's to demand action on crab prices and work conditions related to COVID-19 restrictions. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Police were present at Confederation Building, and earlier in the day, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers implored participants outside the FFAW's offices on Hamilton Avenue to end their protest because they were not physically distant. 

It is currently illegal for groups of 10 people or more to gather together, according to Newfoundland and Labrador's public health emergency orders. 

"I am asking everybody [to please adhere] to special measure orders that are currently in place," said a uniformed RNC officer, who was wearing a face mask.

While protesters had initially spilled out onto the street to space themselves out, many in the group said they were staying put to drive home their points. 

Ronnie Bidgood, a Petty Harbour harvester, said he and others were standing up for their livelihoods and would not disperse. 

When asked about the protests at Tuesday's daily briefing on COVID-19, Premier Dwight Ball said police enforcement is not the first option given that people have a right to demonstrate, but protesters have to abide by the public health regulations.

"It's gatherings like this that can actually be very dangerous … and it can help spread the virus within our province, so you know, it's important that we follow those rules," Ball said.

"We want to work with you. But what we want to make sure  we do it in a safe way."

2nd protest in 4 days

Tuesday's protest follows the start of the crab season on Monday. 

More than 200 fish harvesters stood side by side in a protest that lasted much of Saturday. 

The atmosphere was tense as protesters voiced their displeasure with the union's actions on issues like low crab prices, trip limits and lack of federal funding.

Police were on scene of Tuesday's protest at FFAW headquarters. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

"What did you do about it? F--king nothing," one protester yelled at Sullivan on Saturday. 

"Why wouldn't you shut it down?" yelled another.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $62.5 million for the fish and seafood sector, but that money was earmarked for processors and not harvesters. 

The FFAW said it understands harvesters' concerns and has been working to ensure better conditions for the fishermen.

The union said the blame for the uncertainty and discontent this season must be placed with the Association of Seafood Producers, which has refused to negotiate with fish harvesters on a fair price or scheduling of the fishery.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Terry Roberts

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