Corner Brook —
Protesting against cuts to halibut and turbot quotas is not how Ron Benoit wanted to spend his Thursday.
Still, the fisherman from Lourdes is concerned enough about the current and future state of the inshore fishery he joined fellow members of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union as they gathered in Corner Brook to shut down the federal offices of the J.R. Smallwood Building, which houses the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
It was the second time in two weeks fish harvesters from all along the west coast of Newfoundland and southern Lab-rador shut down the office.
In addition to the roughly 100 protesters in Corner Brook, more FFAW members also shut down the DFO office in Port au Choix.
“When a bunch of fishermen have got to resort to coming here and doing something like this just to make a living, there’s something wrong with the system somewhere,” said Benoit. “This is the last place in the world I want to be today, but if we don’t do this now, it will never get done. I think there are a lot more fishermen who could be here today too.”
Benoit, 62, has been fishing the waters off the Port au Port Peninsula since he was about 16 years old. He hopes meetings being held between the union, DFO and federal politicians this week will help resolve the outstanding issues.
Earle McCurdy, FFAW president, has been in Ottawa this week attending meetings on the fishery dispute. On Tuesday, he met with Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield’s chief of staff. On Wednesday, he met with Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue, who is Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative in the federal cabinet.
On Thursday, McCurdy was set to meet with Claire Dansereau, the deputy minister for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“It’s not promising the way things are looking, but things can change real fast. So we are hoping something good will come out of this,” said Benoit. “The way it looks to me, and everyone has the same feeling, they are trying to phase out the inshore fishery. Every year, they are gradually taking a little bit at a time.”
“When a bunch of fishermen have got to resort to coming here and doing something like this just to make a living, there’s something wrong with the system somewhere.” - Ron Benoit
Dave Decker, the FFAW’s secretary/treasurer was at the protest in Corner Brook Thursday. He said fish harvesters in western Newfoundland were not happy to have had their groundfish quotas cut in 2010 and are angry now because overruns of the quota caught last year are now being clawed back from this year’s quota.
While they want a short-term solution to address the quota issue, Decker said harvesters also have concerns about the long-term so they can plan for the future of the groundfish fishery.
“The bureaucrats who are making these decisions and advising the minister have not met these people,” Decker said of the disconnect between Ottawa and fish harvesters. “They don’t know their communities or their history, yet they are making dramatic decisions that are putting their lives in turmoil.”
While the harvesters don’t like having to protest, Decker said they all would like to have been in Ottawa with McCurdy this week to put names and faces to this issue.
“They are doing the next best thing,” said Decker. “They are here to show that Earle McCurdy is not (in Ottawa) as Earle McCurdy. He’s there as their representative, speaking to their grievances and they want these grievances heard and rectified.“
Ernest Decker of Rocky Harbour has been fishing for almost 40 years. The clawback on this year’s quota will translate into a loss of around $1,000 in his income this season.
“I’d just like to get back what we just lost,” he said. “I can clearly see, by looking around here today, that a lot of fishermen are deeply troubled or they wouldn’t be here today. We can’t afford to lose what’s been cut.”
Decker said he feels fish harvesters may have been quiet for too long, but those days are over now.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “If nothing is settled, we might not be so quiet next time.”
The Western Star