Organized by the Independent Fish Harvesters Association, roughly 150 fishermen assembled on the steps of Confederation Building at 9 a.m. Photos by Terry Roberts/The Telegram
Dozens of fish harvesters from throughout the province gathered in St. John's today to press their demand for a lifting of restrictions that prevent them from selling unprocessed seafood to companies from outside the province.
Organized by the Independent Fish Harvesters Association, roughly 150 fishermen assembled on the steps of Confederation Building at 9 a.m.
They argue that the industry is in crisis, and they are not able to participate in the crab fishery at a set price of $1.35 per pound.
They believe that opening the province's borders will increase competition and drive up prices. They say the price paid for the same raw material in other Atlantic provinces has been historically higher, and feel they have been short-changed by the processing sector in this province.
In his address to the crowd, association spokesman Lyndon Small of Wild Cove said harvesters will only earn enough money to pay the bills and will struggle to qualify for employment insurance benefits.
He said the margins are now so thin that a drop in catch rates or mechanical problems could mean disaster for many enterprises.
It's the latest setback for an industry that has been reeling in recent years.
On Friday, a spokesman for processors said companies would not purchase crab at the set price, arguing that the price was too high because of the surging Canadian dollar.
With the crab harvest scheduled to begin April 1, a timely start to the fishery seems less and less likely.
Fisheries union president Earle McCurdy agreed that it may be time to lift the restrictions, and charged that processors have foregone their protected status by refusing to buy crab at the established price.
Some 10 fishermen met with Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman this morning, but Jackman would not commit to an immediate change in legislation.
He said the issue is complicated by the threat such a decision would pose to the thousands of jobs created by the processing sector.
"I'm not saying we won't make changes, but there are details that have to be worked out," Jackman said.
Jackman is trying to arrange a meeting with leaders from the union and the processing sector, in hopes the fishery can be started on time.
The harvesters say they will continue their protest on Tuesday.
For more indepth coverage, see Tuesday's Telegram.