In January, Rod Cornick secured his five-person shrimp fishing crew for the coming season.
In late March, the fisherman from Port au Choix finalized the purchase of a shrimp fishing enterprise valued at $1.6 million.
Just days later, Cornick and every other shrimp harvester found out the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was planning to reduce the shrimp quota for inshore fish harvesters.
For Cornick, the cut translates into seeing the 625,000 pounds he had been banking on catching this season, reduced by 200,000 pounds. He paid $1.50 per pound to buy that quota, so the reduction means he has to take a hit to the tune of $300,000.
That’s why he was with about 50 other shrimp harvesters from the Northern Peninsula who trekked to the DFO office in Corner Brook to protest the cuts Tuesday.
“I’m operating on a fine line anyway because of the costs affiliated with catching shrimp,” Cornick told The Western Star during the sit-in that shut down the Joseph R. Smallwood Building that houses other federal government offices besides DFO.
“To lose 200,000 pounds of product before we even get started is putting us on the brink of bankruptcy before we’ve even started.”
Cornick had worked in the shrimp industry as a deckhand with his brother for 20 years before going into the seine fishery on his own for the last 10. When the chance came to get back into the shrimp industry as the owner of an enterprise, he went for it.
He and the other harvesters at Tuesday’s protest don’t want all of the shrimp for themselves. They just want their fair share of the total allowable catch, said Cornick.
“I respect science but, if I get cut, everybody across the board should be cut evenly,” he said. “I can live with it then. But for us to take 80 or 90 per cent of the cut is not sensible, it’s unreasonable and I hope we’ve got the balls to do something about it and curtail those bureaucrats in Ottawa.”
This was the second time in three weeks the shrimp harvesters who toil in the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence were at the DFO office in Corner Brook to voice their frustrations over the quota cuts.
Jason Spingle, the staff representative for the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union that represents the harvesters, said the union and its members will keep the pressure on until they feel there is a fair and stable arrangement for sharing the shrimp quota. He hopes support from an all-party committee struck by provincial politicians to address the issue and the backing of municipal governments concerned about the negative impact of less money circulating through their economies will help get the message through to federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea.
“We’re not going to be stopping until we feel we’ve got a decision we can move forward with and it’s certainly not the one the minister has now,” said Spingle.
The harvesters feel there is inequality between allocations for the inshore and offshore sectors. Spingle said the offshore quotas have been virtually unscathed and, if the current trend continues in years to come, the inshore shrimp harvest will soon be history in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Cornick, who said he now has to consider laying off some of the crew he promised work to just a few months ago, said he has no choice but to execute the shrimp fishery this year. But he agreed the future of the inshore fishery is at stake with cuts like this coming down.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” he said.
Three weeks after they came to Corner Brook to protest shrimp quota reductions, harvesters from the Northern Peninsula were back in the city to draw more attention to their plight Tuesday.
Around 50 shrimp fishermen from Port Saunders to Cook’s Harbour occupied the main lobby of the Joseph R. Smallwood Building, where the Corner Brook office of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is located.
As in the past when fish harvesters have protested in the building, the federal government offices located there were closed for the day.
The shrimp harvesters are expected to bear the majority of a 26 per cent reduction in the inshore quota announced by DFO earlier in April. They feel there is inequality between allocations for the inshore and offshore sectors.
The offshore allocation for northern shrimp was reduced by 3.6 per cent compared to 2013. The inshore sector's share of the allocation - 29.2 per cent — is the lowest it's been within the last 15 years.
The protesting fishermen said not only are their own livelihoods at stake, but so is the economy in general with less money circulating to create spinoff effects.