Newfoundland fish harvesters crash news conference to demand reinstating of cod moratorium | CBC News

Fish harvesters in Newfoundland crashed the podium at a meeting of Canada’s environment ministers in St. John’s on Wednesday, demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the federal government’s decision to reopen the commercial cod fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Moments before the start of the news conference, which was to detail two days of meetings of the Canadian Council of Environment Ministers, Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Minister Bernard Davis was interrupted by a loud siren.

Glen Winslow, a St. John’s fish harvester, then walked up to meet Davis at the podium from a group of around 15 protesters.

“Sorry we got to do this, my buddy, but this is too important to Newfoundland and Labrador,” Winslow said to Davis over the news conference’s microphone while the other ministers watched on.

“I kind of think it’s ridiculous that we got to be here and doing this today. I kind of think that things could be straightened out at lot easier.”

Members of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union came to the news conference to voice their calls for Ottawa to revert its decision to end the moratorium on cod fishing and reinstate a stewardship fishery in the province.

Protesters hold posters inside a hotel ballroom.
A group of about 15 people stand next to the ministers with signs calling for the stewardship fishery to be reinstated, on Wednesday. Fish, Food and Allied Workers president Greg Pretty, seen in the front wearing a blue shirt, said harvesters can’t let Ottawa’s decision stand. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

A moratorium had been in place since 1992, when overfishing from dragging trawlers near and abroad nearly destroyed the stock, but was removed in June.

Inshore fishermen are set to receive 84 per cent of the 18,000-tonne total allowable catch, but the reopening of the commercial fishery also allows dragging to resume.

“It’s been stopped for 32 years, and someone in their right mind thought we have enough cod in the water all of a sudden to allow it to happen again, Winslow said.

“If we’re going to stand by and allow it to happen all over again, it’s just as well for us to close shop.”

Winslow, along with FFAW president Greg Pretty, said harvesters are demanding a meeting with the prime minister.

They claim Trudeau broke an election promise made in 2015 to then FFAW president Keith Sullivan to uphold a 1982 agreement that would allocate 115,000 tonnes annually to inshore harvesters under a commercial cod fishery when the stock rebounds.

“We were guaranteed by that man 115,000 metric tonnes, the first 115,000 metric tonnes for inshore harvesters and then Indigenous allocations. And it never happened.… And with last week’s announcement, all of a sudden we’ve got foreign trawlers and domestic trawlers catching baby fish again. And we don’t think it’s a good thing,” he said.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey sent a letter to federal Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier on July 3. He wrote that the province can’t support fish being harvested by foreign countries at the expense of harvesters, and that he was seriously concerned with the announcement.

Asked about the protest, Davis called the FFAW a passionate group of people who wanted to get their message across.

“I’m supportive of what they’re looking to try to accomplish with respect to, you know, protecting the fishery for the long term for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I understand they’re very passionate,” he said.

Pretty followed Winslow at the podium, calling Davis an “ally in our fight for justice.”

He adamantly refuted the choice to reopen the commercial fishery and called for the fishery to return to a stewardship designation.

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