FISH-NL calls on Ottawa for ice compensation/gear replacement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 25th, 2017

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) is calling on Ottawa to extend EI benefits for fish harvesters on Newfoundland’s northeast coast impacted by severe ice conditions.

FISH-NL also says harvesters who lost crab gear should be compensated because the federal government should not have opened the fishery in their areas.

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“Some harvesters and their families are having an extremely hard time of it,” says Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL, in calling for ice compensation in the form of an EI extension. “They can’t go fishing because ice conditions haven’t improved, and they ran out of EI benefits weeks ago.”

“But I’ve also spoken with harvesters around the northeast coast who've lost tens of thousands of dollars in gear because the crab fishery opened in their areas and they were pressed to set their pots in conditions that were far from ideal.”

The EI benefits of some harvesters ran out weeks ago, with no let up in sight of severe ice conditions.

John Gillett, an inshore fisherman from Twillingate, wrote the following letter today to federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc:

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Dear Minister LeBlanc,

This has been a very difficult year fishing snow crab on the east and northeast coast of Newfoundland. Many people like myself are close to financial ruin because I lost all my snow crab gear to the ice. 

I managed to borrow some pots and rope from my friends so I could continue crab fishing. I repaired some garbage pots I had around as well. It's going to take me longer to catch my quota of 16,000 pounds of crab because I have less pots. I am allowed 200 crab pots.  

There has been no ice compensation for fish harvesters affected by ice. My crew members’ EI ran out so in order to keep them on my boat, I had no other choice only go fishing.

It's going to take me longer to catch my quota of crab because I have less pots. I have four people on my boat depending on me for their livelihood. It’s not just me — many fish harvesters have lost millions of dollars in crab gear. I don't make enough money to put insurance on my boat or fishing gear because of small quotas and the moratorium on groundfish.

I set my crab pots in open water with not a pan of ice in sight, but because of a strong tide the ice covered all my gear in less than 12 hours.

Many crab zones are not open yet because of the amount of ice that's around, but DFO decided to open our zone on April 14, 2017 from the advise of a few people with influences with the union (FFAW). 

It was later delayed for a few days. Fishing is very competitive, when one fish harvester starts everyone wants to start or one fool makes fools of many.

Opening the crab zones up when there is a lot of ice around is not good for the crab resource. 

If they’re not retrieved, thousands of lost pots will continue fishing until their iron frames rust.  

DFO should use the Coast Guard to drag up these lost pots because the latitudes and longitudes were given to DFO where the pots were lost. 

When crab pots get dragged over the bottom they get tangled in other crab gear, and if a buoy is found it is sometimes impossible for our boats to retrieve it, because of the weight.

The last four years have been very difficult to fish crab because of the pack ice. Many people have lost gear in those years. One fisherman lost 500 crab pots, ropes and buoys in the last two years, which is more than $50,000 worth of gear that’s still on the bottom somewhere.

I know there is a soft-shell protocol on crab and DFO wants the crab caught early in the season, but this opening of the crab season when there is ice around is doing more damage to the crab stocks than catching soft-shell crab ever did.

DFO should consult more closely with the ice charts before opening the crab fishery. 

As in the past, DFO should take some responsibility and compensate crab fish harvesters for their lost gear. Harvesters should have to sign an affidavit on the amount of gear they lost if such a compensation package were to be implemented. 

Many harvesters and plant workers will need work this fall because of the shrimp and crab quota cuts. 

What an excellent idea to have them make crab pots. This would help out the crab frame-makers and the people themselves. Instead of cutting brush in three feet of snow near the highway, they could be put to work putting jackets, cones and rope in crab pots.

Regards,

John Gillett, Inshore harvester, Twillingate

884-5660

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Contact Ryan Cleary: 682 4862