PORT AU CHOIX, NL – Harvesters who took part in a protest in Port au Choix last May have now been told they will be charged with obstruction of justice and placing crab pots in a wrong zone.
Fisherman Dean Offrey was called in for a meeting Wednesday, Oct. 11, and was informed he and the other harvesters involved in the protest would be facing these two charges.
“It was a peaceful demonstration,” Offrey said. “We just wanted to show that we should have the right to fish in this zone, and now they’re looking to charge us.”
In early May, nine crab harvesters took their boats off the shores of Port au Choix and laid down their pots in Area 13 – where they were not permitted to do so.
The protest was out of frustration against a policy that allowed boats from Quebec to fish crab in Area 13, while Newfoundland harvesters had to travel 30 miles from the Port au Choix shore to Area 12 to fish their crab.
Fisherman Joseph Hynes also took part in the protest and says he and the other harvesters involved feel these charges are unjust.
“We called ahead of time and made sure the protest was done right,” Hynes said. “We didn’t even keep the crab, just threw it overboard after the protest.”
In an emailed response to the Northern Pen, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed it is conducting an investigation regarding the Port au Choix protest of May 2017. Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, the department declined to comment any further.
According to Hynes and Offrey, the obstruction of justice charge is a result of DFO claims that their protest prevented the Coast Guard from doing its job.
Offrey says at the time, the fishermen felt there was no other recourse but to organize the protest. Both Offrey and Hynes are confident the other harvesters are prepared to fight the charges.
“It’s not right where we’re being forced to fish crab. We can’t fish by our own homes,” said Offrey. “Now they’re try to put the screws on us to keep everyone else in line.”
The fishermen say no advances were made to interfere with the Coast Guard present at the protest. Hynes says the harvesters just wanted to send a message and encourage other harvesters to not be silent when they feel a fishery policy is unfair.
“It won’t work trying to silence us,” said Offrey. “We’ve got families to feed and we got to fight for our living.
“It’s time for somebody to do something, a change has got to be made.”