No 'playing politics': MP says he did not disrespect hunger-striking fisherman

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No 'playing politics': MP says he did not disrespect hunger-striking fisherman

No 'playing politics': MP says he did not disrespect hunger-striking fisherman

Newfoundland MP Scott Simms is denying accusations by FISH-NL's Ryan Cleary that he is "playing politics" with the life of a hunger-striking fisherman.

Simms said Thursday afternoon he didn't make an offer to Richard Gillett to entice the fish harvester to end his protest, and didn't fake an offer that was designed to trick Gillett into thinking he had won a concession from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

FISH-NL President Ryan Cleary alleged on Thursday that Simms had met with Gillett this week, while Gillett was protesting in front of a DFO building in St. John's, and offered yearly assessments of the northern cod stock in exchange for Gillett abandoning his protest.

On Wednesday, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans did announce that yearly assessments of the northern cod would be undertaken. According to Cleary, the news came as Gillett was considering that offer from Simms, and Cleary said he believes DFO was planning to make that announcement regardless of Gillett's protest.

Cleary implied that Simms was trying to trick Gillett into abandoning his protest, without actually offering anything in return.

"They're playing politics with this man's life," Cleary said.

"[Gillett] looks at that as a kick in the face."

The Twillingate fisherman is entering the second week of his hunger strike, which was sparked — according to Cleary — by the closure of the Herring fishery in his area. Cleary said Gillett relies on the Herring for his living.

Gillett wants a call from the federal fisheries minister, Dominic LeBlanc, and reviews of the DFO's approach to science and stock management.

Late Thursday night, LeBlanc called Gillett and had the two had a lengthy conversation, but Gillett's wife told CBC News early Friday morning that the hunger strike would continue.

Simms told CBC's Central Morning that he did visit Gillett in his tent in St. John's this week, but didn't offer him increased cod assessments.

"I don't have the power to do that," Simms said.

"When Ryan [Cleary] says there was something dangled in front of Richard [Gillett], that's not true. I'm not a DFO negotiator. And I don't pretend to be one," he said.

Simms said he travelled to speak with Gillett as his MP, and was simply advocating on his behalf to the powers in Ottawa.

He said he understands that Gillett wants more than northern cod stock assessments, and told LeBlanc's office as much when he called following his conversation with Gillett.

"I went to the minister and said 'look, Richard [Gillett] has a good point, and he's in a weak state and I love him dearly and I want you to hear me out at his member of parliament. And I did that," Simms said.

The MP said he isn't looking to pick a fight with Cleary or Gillett. 

"I just hope that in the next little while that we can come up with something that allows Richard [Gillett] to return to his family," Simms said.