April 21st, 2024

N.L. plans to proceed with budget as fishers gather for second day of protest

By Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press on March 21, 2024.

Police line up in front of the legislature in St.John's on Thursday, March 21, 2024 as a large crowd of Newfoundland and Labrador fish harvesters has once again gathered after shutting down the provincial budget on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sarah Smellie

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Newfoundland and Labrador’s government was planning to proceed with tabling its provincial budget Thursday, as police wearing riot gear kept watch over fishers protesting outside the legislature.

It was the second day of demonstrations after Wednesday’s chaotic conflict between police and protesters led to two people, including a police officer, being taken away on stretchers.

A judge granted an injunction Wednesday that prohibits the protesters from blocking access to the building, and by mid-morning reporters covering the budget had entered a lockup to view the document.

The fish harvesters gathered outside say they’re fighting for free market conditions in their industry, which they claim is controlled by a small “cartel” of companies that have too much power.

John Efford, a fisher from Port de Grave, N.L., who is leading the protest, said they don’t intend to block government officials from entering Confederation Building as they did on Wednesday.

“We’re asking people just to respect our picket line,” he said.

Police officers were set up along the perimeter of the crowd near the entrance of the building, with some wearing helmets and carrying plastic shields.

Efford said in an interview that it’s “an emotional situation.”

“Our businesses, our families, everything that we’ve worked for is on the line, and we’re standing up in a parking lot outside a government building trying to get something done properly.”

The fish harvester said regulations affecting smaller, independent processors need to be changed, and the province needs to allow more buyers from outside the market to purchase catches.

He said under existing rules, smaller companies are often hit with caps affecting how much they can buy from fishers, and that can force fishers to bring their catch to the larger processors, who don’t have the same limits.

Elvis Loveless, provincial minister of fisheries, has said the province has started seeking applications for more buyers. As well, he said the government will increase processing capacity in the snow crab industry before the start of the 2024 season.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Premier Andrew Furey said the fishers have a right to protest peacefully, but he said the demonstrators must not use violence or block workers from going to their jobs.

Jason Sullivan, a fisher who has been at the protest since it started, said the the only time “things got a bit crazy” on Wednesday was when police “sent the horses into the crowd.”

“Everything was peaceful, but when you come at people with two Clydesdale (police horses), I don’t know what he (Furey) thought the reaction was going to be,” said Sullivan. “Did he think people were just going to lie down and let them trample you?”

Sullivan said the protesters want the fisheries minister to increase the number of outside buyers and lift processing restrictions on small plants. “They say they’ve agreed to all the terms, but they won’t put it on paper,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2024.

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