Hunger strike heads into Day 6

FISH-NL vice-president Richard Gillett determined to continue protest outside DFO headquarters

Published on April 17, 2017

Richard Gillett and his wife, Joyce, stay warm next to a woodstove inside a Labrador tent that a supporter donated to his cause. The Twillingate fisherman and FISH-NL vice-president has been staging a hunger strike outside the DFO headquarters on White Hills in St. John’s.

©Kenn Oliver/The Telegram

While Richard Gillett’s accommodations along the side of East White Hills Road have improved, his physical and mental state is headed in the other direction.

Gillett, a Twillingate fisherman and vice-president of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), is five days into a hunger strike outside the entrance to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre.

He is protesting what he considers mismanagement of Newfoundland and Labrador fish harvesting operations by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and its relationship with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union.
“No juice, no tea, just plain water, and I’m really slowing down a little bit. I haven’t even been drinking a lot of water,” says Gillett, who moved from a nylon camping tent to a Labrador tent, complete with wood stove and a load of wood, which was offered by a supporter on Monday morning.

“I can feel myself getting weaker. I feel like I’m a little bit loopy.”

Also on Monday, Gillett had a meeting with two representatives from DFO, a senior scientist and a member of senior management. The meeting, he says, was nothing more than “lip service” and an effort to gauge his level of determination and the expected turnout of supporters on Tuesday morning when federal employees return to work following the Easter long weekend.
“People are starting to realize now that we need change in this fishery and they’re behind me, supporting me 100 per cent and they’re starting to see my resolve, that I’m continuing and they’re prepared to stand side-by-side with me,” says Gillett, who made it clear that a demonstration by supporters that turns ugly or impedes federal staff is not condoned by him or FISH-NL.

During their meeting, Gillett says, the DFO officials confirmed there isn’t a prospering fishing industry left anywhere in the province, and capelin stocks are suffering, and admitted the species hasn’t been surveyed north of Cape Freels in Bonavista North in 10 years or longer.
“How can you keep going and setting quotas on something that you have absolutely no idea what’s in the water? You can’t do it, neither up or down,” says Gillett, who insists that’s why there needs to be an independent review of the DFO science.

While his supporters may disperse Tuesday, Gillett has no intention of going anywhere until he gets a meeting with Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc.

“I’m not prepared to leave the hill until we get what we want,” he says.

Gillett hasn’t been alone on the hillside. In addition to a number of supporters visiting, his parents, John and Linda, have spent time with him, and his wife, Joyce, has been there with him since Thursday evening.

“The fishery can go to hell, it doesn’t matter, it’s him I’m concerned about,” she says of her husband, who has diabetes and a heart condition. “That’s the only reason I’m here.”

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