CORNER BROOK Jordan Patey fished for turbot and halibut when those species were not worth much on the market.
Now, the 54-year-old fisherman from River of Ponds on the Northern Peninsula has to take part in protests like the one he was involved with Wednesday to fight for the right to catch those same fish.
There’s something not right about that, said Patey, who was among the 60 or so fish harvesters from all over western Newfoundland who occupied the offices of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Corner Brook all day Wednesday.
Every one of the fish harvesters there were upset with DFO allowing fleets from neighbouring provinces to fish the same turbot and halibut those from Newfoundland and Labrador have only limited access to.
The fish harvesters from the west coast are given 72 hours to catch turbot and 24 hours to catch halibut. That is the amount of time allotted to them for the entire year.
“We always fished it when it wasn’t worth anything,” said Patey. “Then, when it became a commodity, people from other provinces shifted in and said they had all kinds of historical rights.”
Patey and his colleagues want to know why quota-sharing arrangements came out the way they did.
“We want to know if we are owed any amount of quota,” he said. “If we don’t deserve anything, we won’t protest. We won’t be able to. But we need to know if we have the right to fish or have more fish to fish.”
Patey said it’s frustrating to see fish being taken by boats from other provinces from the same areas west coast vessels are not permitted to fish.
“All we want is the right to fish,” he said. “Everybody else has the right to fish, but we don’t have any. Anybody who can make a living off seven days on the water, I’d like to see them do it, and what kind of boat and what kind of gear they got.”
Patey believes the total allowable catch in the Gulf of St. Lawrence should be opened up for everyone involved in the fishery and shut down entirely once the quota is caught.
Conway Caines, an outspoken fisherman from Port Saunders, took part in a series of similar protests at the Corner Brook office over quota issues in 2011. He said there is enough fish for him and other west coast harvesters to warrant having more access to catch them.
“I fished back when there was only six boats fishing and the quota was never taken,” said Caines. “You’d go out and catch turbot and you might get 3,000 pounds in a week. In the last couple of years, you could catch 30,000 pounds in two days. It’s phenomenal.”
The halibut are even more bountiful, he added.
“We just want our fair share,” said Caines. “How can we be drove ashore ... and all the boats from somewhere else come here? (The out-of-province fish harvesters) have got their two holes over there fished out. We’ve done a beautiful job growing our fish and now it’s all gone to them.”
The status for Atlantic halibut and Greenland halibut stock will be assessed during the DFO science branch’s regional assessment process meetings on Feb. 26-27. Caines said Wednesday’s protest is an effort by fish harvesters to draw attention to their concerns about the quota allocation in advance of decisions being made for the 2013 fishing season.
“We’re here until we get someone to say they are going to have a serious look at the quotas and the way it’s managed,” said Caines.
Patey, meanwhile, was hoping there would be a larger crowd of fish harvesters show up for the protest in Corner Brook.
“The union is the fishermen,” he said, referring to the Fish Food and Allied Workers union that represents them in the industry.
“We are the union and we need to be showing in force — not sending someone out from the union office to say things for us. We have to say things ourselves.”
The Western Star asked DFO to provide someone for an interview about the protest. In an emailed response, the federal agency stated it recognizes the right of people to protest and voice concerns, but DFO does not engage in discussions with any person or group occupying or blocking access to its facilities.
“In these circumstances, our first priority must be the well-being of our employees and the security of Government of Canada property and assets,” read the statement. “When our facilities are closed unexpectedly for any reason, we implement our business continuity plan as standard procedure to ensure continuing service to our clients.”
As for the upcoming meetings regarding the halibut stock, DFO noted that industry representatives will be participating in those meetings.
The industry will be informed of the latest science assessment at the Gulf Groundfish Advisory Committee meetings scheduled for March 12-13.
“Decisions on the appropriate 2013 (total allowable catch) levels and management measures for the upcoming season will be made after all science advice and industry recommendations are considered,” concluded the DFO statement.