Black Duck Cove shrimp processing workers have vowed to continue to block Route 430 every day until fisheries minister Clyde Jackman stops the practice of trucking gulf shrimp off the Northern Peninsula.
More than a dozen women set up a picket line across the highway at about 4 p.m. Wednesday, just south of the Port Saunders branch, to air their anger and concerns for their future at the Quinlan Bros. facility.
Waving placards bemoaning the transport of shrimp and other seafood products away from the Northern Peninsula, the group said last year they were starved of work because shrimp that could have been processed was trucked instead to plants in other parts of the province.
Wednesday more protesters from New Ferolle’s embattled multi-species plant were also expected to descend on the scene, boosting the numbers significantly and giving the group the ability to blockade the road 24 hours a day.
Protest organizer Michelle Dredge and Black Duck Cove’s United Food and Commercial Workers Union executive board fisheries representative warned last year that this kind of action would take place.
“We warned them,” she said. “We told them that if they want to truck shrimp off the Northern Peninsula we would stop them.”
“Our futures, all of our futures, are at stake here, and if they think they are going to truck raw material off this peninsula they’ve got another thing coming. This is war and we’re not taking any prisoners.”
Before the RCMP arrived around 4.15 p.m., the women stood shoulder to shoulder across both lanes of traffic, preventing vehicles from moving freely.
They asked drivers to sign a petition in support of their cause — including St. Barbe MHA Wally Young who was snared in the roadblock.
When trucks appeared on the horizon, the women’s resolve strengthened and they waved down drivers to stop. Those carrying seafood were corralled off the highway into a nearby parking lot at a former service station, where they waited.
By 8 p.m. they had snared three trucks — one carrying fresh crab to Cottle’s Cove, another carrying frozen caplin from St. Anthony and another transporting crab to an undisclosed location.
Keeping the peace
RCMP Const. Ian Jarvis said the trucks had more than 100,000 pounds of product that was eventually allowed to leave shortly after
9 p.m., adding their role was to keep the peace and direct traffic.
Despite the fact none were carrying shrimp, the protesters’ message was still the same.
“If it’s landed here it should be processed here,” said Millie Dredge, another protester.
“This has got to stop. The government is killing the Northern Peninsula and we are going to take a stand. … We’re not going to take it anymore.”
Just six boats are expected to serve Black Duck Cove’s shrimp plant this season, meaning there will be just one shift of workers, Michelle Dredge said.
“That’s just one shift, one shift is about 60 or 70 people. What’s the good in that?” she said.
“People up here are being treated like second-class citizens and we’ve had enough.”
Ralph Payne, chairman of the New Ferolle multi-species plant, was on hand to share his support and promised more protesters.
“It’s a disgrace how the people of the Northern Peninsula are being treated by this government,” he said.
“This is about people’s ability to put bread and butter on their tables. This should never have been allowed to happen.”
Dredge said the reinstatement of processing protection for Northern Peninsula shrimp plants, which was shelved during the raw materials sharing debate in 2005, should take place immediately.
Speaking from Brussels where he has been attending the European Seafood Exposition, Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman said he would speak to the women when they stopped protesting.
“I will not bow down to threats and I will not engage in discussions while they block traffic on the Northern Peninsula,” he said.
“The harvesters have only just started harvesting this week, so we don’t know what prospects there are and for the past few years, despite what some of the people have said, the Northern Peninsula processes more than its average share of shrimp.”
Jackman said OCI, whose Port Union plant will not operate this year, would “in all likelihood” process that shrimp at their Port au Choix plant.
That won’t help Black Duck Cove, he said.
“It’s still the Northern Peninsula,” he said.
“I can’t decide what a particular company is going to do with their plant.
“The company operates as a business and they make business decisions therefore I can’t force an owner of a plant to process.”
Last June, workers at the Barry Group-owned Anchor Point shrimp processing plant held protests after their plant missed the start of the shrimp season by more than three weeks.
No one from Quinlan Bros. returned the Pen’s request for an interview.
The Northern Pen