Fisherman Brad Watkins was clearly angry, talking about the federal government’s decision to cut shrimp quotas to inshore fish harvesters.
“I don’t even want to sit in front of this Canadian flag,” Watkins said. “It’s disgraceful. We, as Newfoundlanders are down here. They don’t care about us.”
New Democrat MP Ryan Cleary didn’t miss a beat.
“Let me move that flag out of the way, how’s that?” Cleary said, getting up to drag the Canadian flag to the corner of the room, leaving just the provincial flag and the pink, white, and green flag in the frame, as Watkins kept speaking.
“Every good dog, once they’re put into a corner and treated bad enough, will bite back. And I think now is the time for us to bite back,” Watkins said.
“This is not just about shrimp to me today. This is about rural Newfoundland, about harvesting. It’s about us as fishermen and where we’re to, and we need to stand up once and for all.”
Friday’s news conference was called by Cleary after a disappointing week in Ottawa.
Provincial politicians, members of the fishing industry and opposition MPs have been calling on the government to abandon its last-in, first-out policy when it comes to shrimp quotas.
The policy dictates that the most recent licence holders will bear the brunt of quota cuts on shrimp. That means that inshore fishermen are hit much harder than the larger offshore harvesters.
Earlier this spring, the federal government announced a cut of 10,000 metric tonnes. Nearly all of that will be shouldered by inshore fishermen.
This past week, the House of Commons fisheries committee held hearings on the issue, and an all-party committtee made up of provincial Fisheries Minister Keith Hutchings, Liberal Leader Dwight Ball and New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael spoke in Ottawa.
Michael, when she got back to Newfoundland, said she had “cautious hopeful feelings” coming out of the meetings, but Cleary wasn’t as upbeat.
“Not a single outport mayor or leader was called before the committee to testify,” he said. “The minister of Fisheries and Oceans herself, Gail Shea, should come to Newfoundland to see first hand the impact of her decisions. It is important, it is critical that the minister hear from those directly affected by the federal government’s last-in, first-out policy.”
Cleary said it was “an insult” that Shea won’t talk to people about the decision.
The Telegram requested an interview with Shea, but a spokesman said she was unavailable to speak due to committments with the Day of Honour in her riding.
Shea’s director of communications sent a statement to The Telegram saying the last-in, first-out policy has been in place since 1997, and consistency is important when it comes to setting policy.
“If the minister had flip-flopped and changed the policy, she would have been equally ‘outraged’ that politics was affecting policy,” director of communications Sopie Doucet wrote in an email.
“Ryan Cleary has a proud history of choosing theatrics over facts, and this is unfortunately another example of him playing politics.”
Sitting alongside Cleary and Watkins Friday morning was Phil Barnes, speaking for the Fogo Island Co-op.
Barnes was in Ottawa to make a presentation to the fisheries committee, but he refused to give his prepared presentation when he was told he would be given only five minutes.
“Five minutes would not even get into the introduction,” he said. “I said I’d rather give the time to the other two gentlemen which happened to be Earle McCurdy and Brad (Watkins).”
Barnes said he believes the fishing industry is too dominated by foreign harvesters through the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, and the Canadian government isn’t protecting coastal communities.
“It’s not a fishery anymore. It’s a disgrace is what it is,” he said.
“Our Canadian government is not taking any action on it. Our crab quotas are cut in half in 3K, and our shrimp quotas are cut in half.”