On Thursday afternoon a crowd of about 50 people gathered to voice their anger over the federal government's recent decision to allot N.L. 19 per cent of the redfish quota. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)
Outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans office in Corner Brook, a crowd of about 50 people gathered to express their frustration with a recent federal decision to allot a 19 per cent share of the redfish quota to Newfoundland and Labrador.
In late January, federal Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier announced the redfish allocation for the Atlantic provinces in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. That announcement left harvesters worried what this could mean for their livelihoods and has drawn criticism from provincial politicians.
One protestor, Rendell Genge from Anchor Point, took to the microphone and asked the crowd to raise their hands if they'll lose their jobs if the redfish quota isn't increased.
"Redfish was our only hope. We was let down. No one was anymore disappointed than I was when this announcement was made," said Genge. "The battle is just beginning, in my books."
Thursday afternoon's protest was organized by the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union (FFAW), and secretary treasurer Jason Spingle said the crowd was there to show their resolve and disappointment regarding the recent federal decision.
The redfish fishery shuttered in 1995, but prior to that N.L.'s quota was 17 per cent. But Spingle said they had hoped their allotment would increase by far more this time round.
"We saw this as a real opportunity to a transition for our industry and our communities and the whole west coast is a region. And we really thought we'd get a much bigger share," he told CBC News.
FFAW-Unifor secretary treasurer Jason Spingle says they were hoping that redfish quota would exceed 19 per cent. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)
Instead, Spingle said they were "floored" with the decision, as the union had high hopes for the future of the redfish fishery.
He called the fishery as "basically the new shrimp fishery."
"This was the fishery that we're going to sustain the fleet of, you know, 30 to 40 boats with four or five crew on each boat and two or three plants here in the West Coast," he said.
Spingle said he sees a path forward to get more than just 19 per cent and it's attainable.
Decision means devastation
MHA for Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune and N.L.'s fishery minister Elvis Loveless said harvesters are worried about losing their businesses and wondering if the bank will take their vessels.
"That's real, that's raw and that's devastation," Loveless told CBC News.
Loveless said the allotment needs to go beyond 19 per cent, adding he would love to see it at 30 per cent.
"We want more. The harvesters need more," said Loveless.
One harvester told Loveless that the current allotment would result in $30,000, which he said was a small amount to support people's livelihoods.
Fishery Minister Elvis Loveless says the situation is "urgent" and more can be done. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)
He is looking to arrange a meeting with his federal counterpart to ask for further details and discussions. There is a newly started redfish advisory committee, which will also discuss allocations, he said.
Loveless said this is an "urgent" situation.
When Genge asked the protestors how many thought they'd lose their livelihoods from this quota, Loveless estimated 95 per cent of the crowd raised their hands, which he called a "strong message."
"Then my message to the federal minister is that you need to go back to the drawing board on this. And need to reset the button and really focus on the fact that these people may be without a job, without a livelihood, where do they go from there?"
MHA for Stephenville–Port au Port and PC Leader Tony Wakeham said this issue went beyond fish harvesters, plant workers, crews or politicians, but to everyone in the province.
"Our communities in rural Newfoundland and Labrador survive because of the fishery. And let me tell you, we talk a lot about renewable, about mega projects," he said. "Well the fishery is a renewable mega project that brings billions of dollars to the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador every single year."
He said it was frustrating to see the federal government make decisions based on politics over logic.
Wakeham then recalled N.L.'s decision to become a Canadian province 75 years ago, which gave the federal government control of the management of N.L.'s fishery. He called that a mistake and that "we've been paying for it ever since."
He then suggested the creation of a fisheries accord.
"So no more decisions get made when it comes to quotas or when it comes to the size of your boats or the type of gear you're going to use or any other fishery management decision," said Wakeham.
"No decisions get made unless Newfoundland and Labrador is sitting at the table and making those decisions. Because that has to be the goal."
Worry about future
Jenny Brake, chief of the Qalipu First Nation, is also concerned over the redfish quota allocation.
"I had been hoping for a lot more than what we received, that is for sure," Brake said Thursday.
She said Qalipu had many conversations with ministers in the past few years and in 2016 when DFO established a redfish advisory group.
"We have the processors. We have the boats. We have the plant workers. It's just it's really disappointing to be left out of something that you've been asked to be consulting with for so long. And I feel like it's something that happens far too often," she said.
Brake said Indigenous voices were invited to sit in on discussions, giving their feedback, only to be ignored, which she said feels like "tokenism."
"The offshore quota percentage is a real blow for the inshore fleet and our Indigenous harvesters and the creation of 10 per cent indigenous pool is a tokenistic, you know, way of doing things."
Guy Gallant, an Indigenous harvester, attended the protest and he said his family has been involved with the fishery for 60 years.
Harvesters on the west coast don't have anything else to rely on, he said, and had put their hopes in the fishery.
"We got no shrimp. We got no crab," said Gallant. "The mackerel was closed and this was the beacon that we were heading toward. This was our saving grace, this red fishery."
He said his worst fear now is that this will "finish" harvesters like himself and what it could mean for businesses like the plant in his hometown that employs hundreds of people.