The protesters, members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Independent Fish Harvesters’ Association (NLIFHA), kicked in a window at the building’s main entrance, stormed the building and wandered the halls in search of specific staff familiar with shrimp science and fisheries management.
At issue was not the shrimp quota, but the principles of adjacency surrounding the fishery in Area 6, specifically the 3K region on the province’s northeast coast and 2J off Labrador. Those closest to the resource, they argue, should have first access.
“In these dire circumstances, while the shrimp is in the critical zone according to DFO scientists, we’re asking that the access to this shrimp only be given to people living adjacent to the shrimp,” explained Terry Ryan, a fisherman from La Scie and spokesman for the group of about 50.
“All other fleets, including boats from Quebec, be denied access until such time as our shrimp recovers out of this critical zone.”
After a nearly three-hour negotiation with DFO officials, they left with a signed agreement.
“They couldn’t make the decision today, but it’s going to be a top priority and they’re going specifically to put that request to higher management and that they will have a decision for us as soon as possible, definitely before the end of this month,” Ryan told reporters.
A 63 per cent reduction in the quota was announced for Area 6 last week. It brings the total allowable catch down to 10,400 tonnes, less than half of last year’s quota of nearly 28,000 tonnes and far less than the 2015 figure of just over 48,000 tonnes.
Ryan says if DFO is able to implement changes, operations for all of the fishermen in those areas should be able to weather the storm. Without it, only those with multiple licences will be able to make it through, he said.
“There are boats out there in our fleet that have only got one shrimp licence and one crab licence, and without changes being made, they’re not going to make it. They’re going to lose their crew to start with, even if there’s a particular boat that has their boat paid for, and got no bank payment, they’re going to lose their crew,” he suggested.
Ryan says Friday’s drastic actions were the only way to get the attention of DFO officials after a demonstration outside the offices of MP Scott Simms in Grand Falls-Windsor last week failed to produce any tangible results.
“When you get pushed into a corner and you’re down to survival, you don’t care about things in the same way that you would under normal circumstances,” he says, adding that the protest wasn’t sanctioned by the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union or the harvesters’ association.
“If we had to burn this building down it would have been worth it.”
After breaching the front door, the protesters proceeded to gain access to secure areas of the building.
It made for some tense moments inside the DFO offices, according to Jan Woodford, regional director of communications.
“Our office is right at the top of the stairs and they tried to get into our offices first,” Woodford told reporters. “I have to say, we’re a small group and people were frightened. I think when you’re faced with a group of people who seem upset, who you don’t know, it’s frightening.”
Woodford says the protesters weren’t hostile towards staff, but rather acted politely and agreed to meet in the building’s cafeteria with senior fisheries managers familiar with the fishery.
“We’d love to be peaceful and get things diplomatically and the proper way, but when you get pushed so far this is when doors get kicked in and you frighten people in a building,” Ryan says. “Not intentionally, that’s peripheral to the main issue.”
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers were called to the scene and remained on site throughout the course of negotiations.
Despite the damage to the main door and others inside the building, the RNC says no charges are being laid against any of the protesters.