For years, fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador have been struggling with catches and market prices — the typical highs and lows of the industry.
Jason Spence says there’s a new challenge facing fishermen in recent years — bankruptcy.
“The last three or four years, the government has been preaching rationalization — buying out enterprises and getting loans from the banks and companies,” the Port au Choix fisherman said Wednesday during a demonstration at the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) office in Corner Brook.
“Lord Jesus, here they are now taking it all away from us.”
The protest, which began early morning and continued throughout the day, was over federal plans to announce cutbacks in allowable shrimp catches based on the last in, first out policy.
“Our federal government is basically slapping us in the face,” Spence said. “We joined Confederation in 1949, but it don’t look that way today.”
The fisherman recently sold his boat and is in the process of downsizing. He said the reduction of shrimp quota is another uncertainty facing the industry.
“If somebody doesn’t draw the line, and step up to the plate for us, we are finished,” he said.
Although unsure what exactly the quota would be, Spence predicts a drastic decrease and once referred to it as about half the norm.
“Any cut is bad for us because we are borderline,” he said. “We have no crab, we are just a shrimp fleet. We have nothing to fall back on, while the government is just taking, taking, taking.
“Jesus b’y, you can only take so much,” he said. “Something has to give.”
The fishermen at the protest, members of the Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union, increased in numbers from about 50 early Wednesday morning to close to 100. Some said they came out in the less-than-ideal weather and road conditions because it is important to voice their opinions and spread the message.
“This is about our communities. Everything is going to be impacted. Everybody is going to get hit hard by this,” Spence said. “Government is a joke b’y. I don’t know, we vote in politicians and nobody is doing their job anymore. All they are there for is a pay cheque.”
Roland Genge of Anchor Point said it’s not just that the decision makers are not listening to fishermen about the quotas, but that the industry is being mismanaged.
“If you are going to look after the fishery, first you have to look where the problem is too,” Genge said. “We have a bad problem in our fishery. If my boat has a leak, it is no good for me to keep buying pumps. Pumps are not the answer. I have to haul her up and stop my leak.”
Genge said the “piece of pie” from government is getting smaller every year, and he hasn’t heard a satisfying justification for it. He said the recovery of the groundfish is at least 10 years away.
“Ten years from now, we are all out of the fishery,” he said.
That, he said, is possibly what government wants — the end of rural communities.
Genge said fishing in winter, catching spawning shrimp, is the problem. He said fishermen in the zone 4R experienced increased catches by waiting until after spawning.
“Fifty-seven fishermen sat in a little room and agreed to wait,” he said. “We said that we think the spawn have to stay on the bottom.”
He said catches increased from 2,000 pounds per day to 40,000 pounds in 40 hours.
“You tell me, who is the better scientist?” he asked. “It is time to stop listening to the scientists. Sometimes one and one equals two, and not X times Y equals Z.”
Genge — who clarified that he doesn’t own his own boat, but is trying to pay it off — said he invested heavily into the fishery in 2007. He says he did so on the advice of government and is now paying the price because of more political decisions.
“Buyouts are not an option for us anymore,” he said. “We are hearing this $400 million right now, but we don’t want to hear talk of buyouts. We want management of our fishery.”
Union representatives Jason Spingle and Bill Broderick said it is important for people throughout the province to realize cuts to fishermen’s quotas not only impact those in the industry, but the economy as a whole.
“The government that is in power right now got no time for us in Atlantic Canada, let alone Newfoundland and Labrador,” Spingle said. “People better understand we are all in this together.”
Broderick said the fight will go as long as it takes and that Wednesday’s protest is just a start.
“We need the powers to be to understand, that the message will be sustained until this decision is reversed,” he said.
Fish Food and Allied Workers union representative Jason Spingle says it is important for everybody to realize that losses to fishermen's livelihoods have impacts on the economy as a whole.
Gathered at a protest currently underway at the DFO office in Corner Brook concerning the Northern Shrimp fishery, fishermen and union representatives are taking action because there are no plans to change the last in, first out (LIFO) policy.
Spingle said it is important to make a presence in places like Corner Brook because people should know that businesses throughout the province will be impacted. Bill Broderick, director of the inshore sector, said fishermen and union representatives will maintain a presence as long as it takes to make a change.
The fishermen were rowdy at times earlier this morning. They cheered the messages from their union representatives, and yelled their own messages — many using vulgarity in the process. One man used the bottom of his protest sign to bang against a small piece of equipment hanging off the front entrance to the J.R. Smallwood building.
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary were on the scene before the demonstration began, and showed up again about an hour after it started. The doors to the federal building have remained locked. Some fishermen shouted they would break them down to gain access if needed.
Fishermen at the protest said the quota cuts — which have been occuring through a number of different species — are making it difficult to stay in the industry. They want their allowable catch restored. There are also claims of mismanagement of the industry, with a call for government to start listening to the fishermen.
Both provincial Fisheries Minister Keith Hutchings and Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union president Earle McCurdy have criticized the decision and the use of last in, first out, suggesting it unfairly favours one fleet sector over another.
Reaction in the province has been swift since it emerged the inshore quota for northern shrimp was being reduced from 45,300 tonnes in 2013 to 33,876 for 2014 — a 26.2 per cent decline.