The once burly fisherman from Twillingate, known for his three seasons on the reality TV show “Cold Water Cowboys,” has lived in a tent on a water-only diet since April 13 on the grounds of the federal Fisheries and Oceans building in St. John’s.
He spoke to reporters early Friday from his cot, his eyes glazed. His wife and daughter, one of his three teenaged children, were by his side as he apologized for mental lapses on Day 9 of a hunger strike to protest what he says is dire mismanagement of fish stocks.
“It takes every bit of energy now just to talk.”
Gillett, 45, said he has no plans to quit despite a phone call Thursday night from Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
“He didn’t offer me anything that was solid other than a meeting in two to three weeks’ time. And that’s certainly not enough to warrant me, after my hunger strike, to get off this hill. That’s not what I’m asking.”
A spokeswoman for LeBlanc also confirmed the call took place and said Thursday the two have agreed to speak again.
Laura Gareau said LeBlanc expressed concern for Gillett, and urged him to make his health and family a priority. She said the minister also raised the fact that almost 400 fisheries staff were kept from work Thursday after Gillett’s supporters lined the road into their offices.
Gareau did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.
Gillett’s supporters, many of them fishermen, said early Friday they’re not blocking traffic at the site.
It’s the latest in escalating protests over the state of declining fish stocks and reduced quotas for shrimp and crab.
About 50 demonstrators streamed into the same building earlier this month after kicking in the Plexiglas window of a locked door. In another incident Tuesday, harvesters set fire to their own fishing gear in Port au Choix as a show of frustration.
“I did warn the minister that Newfoundland and Labrador right now as it comes to the fishery, the turmoil and everything that’s going on, she’s a powder keg,” Gillett said Friday.
“And he better do something because this is going somewhere fast that we don’t want to be. It’s only one spark and we can have something that everyone can avoid.”
Gillett’s wife, Joyce, said she supports her husband of almost 20 years “100 per cent.” But she’s increasingly frightened. Gillett is diabetic and has had past heart issues.
“I’m afraid it’s going to end with him being taken off this hill in an ambulance or worse,” she said.
“I don’t know if they’re willing to even consider what he’s asking for and that scares me,” she said of LeBlanc and fisheries officials.
“It’s been so long, and they’ve seen for themselves how weak he is.”
Gillett’s mother Linda said Friday he wants a written commitment for a meeting with LeBlanc. Even if her son gets that, it would have to wait until he’s strong enough, she added.
“He wouldn’t do a meeting justice so he needs one like in a week or so, when he’s back to himself and he can concentrate.”
Gillett, who is vice-president of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), has accused Ottawa of mismanaging stocks ranging from crab to capelin.
He has demanded an independent review of science and management for all provincial fish stocks. He also wants a review of the relationship between FISH-NL’s rival — the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union — and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Newfoundland Liberal MP Ken McDonald tweeted Friday it’s important LeBlanc “doesn’t get involved in a power struggle between the FFAW and FISH-NL.”
“We recognize that all individuals have a right to protest, in a reasonable manner,” McDonald said. “I join all NLers in the concern for Mr. Gillett’s health.
“We all understand this is a difficult time for harvesters and coastal communities. We are always willing to listen and work with them.”
Gillett has said he decided on such drastic action last week after LeBlanc refused to meet with him and FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary during their visit to Ottawa.
“One thing I did tell the minister last night was: ‘Do not question my resolve,”’ Gillett said Friday. “Do not question my resolve.”’
- With files from Keith Doucette.
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Hunger striker Richard Gillett speaks with the federal fisheries minister
Thursday night call from Dominic LeBlanc expressed concern for fisherman's health
The federal fisheries minister has spoken with a celebrity fisherman on a hunger strike to bring attention to what he calls Ottawa's dire mismanagement of stocks ranging from crab to caplin.
A spokeswoman for Dominic LeBlanc said the fisheries minister spoke with Richard Gillett for more than an hour on Thursday evening, covering a broad range of issues.
Laura Gareau said the two agreed to speak again, adding that LeBlanc expressed concern for Gillett's health, and urged him to make his health and family a priority.
About three dozen protesters went to the federal fisheries office in St. John's, N.L., on Thursday morning to show support for Gillett, who has been on a hunger strike since last Thursday.
Gareau said LeBlanc also expressed concern that the protest prevented nearly 400 Department of Fisheries and Oceans employees from getting to work, interrupting their ability to serve fish harvesters across Newfoundland and Labrador.
Linda Gillett said her son participated in the protest, though she said he is walking very slowly and becoming weak due to his lack of nourishment.
“As his mother, I'm getting pretty worried about him right now. I don't know if he's going last too many more days,” she said.
“But he's determined he's going to until they come across with his demands or we'll have to call the ambulance and take him off.”
Gillett is known for his three seasons on the reality show “Cold Water Cowboys,” and is vice-president of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL).
In addition to talking with LeBlanc, Gillett is seeking an independent review of science and management for all provincial fish stocks.
He also wants a review of the relationship between the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, representing harvesters, and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Gillett said he decided to do something drastic last week after LeBlanc refused to meet with him and FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary as they visited Ottawa.
In an emailed statement, Kevin Anderson, regional director general for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, has said he understands it's a difficult time and the department is willing to listen.
Anderson said scientific stock assessments are shared publicly and that fish harvesters are consulted.