FISH-NL demonstrators disperse from FFAW offices after demands not met

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FISH-NL demonstrators disperse from FFAW offices after demands not met

Protesting fishermen have ended their demonstration at the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) office after union officials wouldn't agree to their demands.

The group of fishermen making up FISH-NL — the Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador — is trying to break away from the FFAW. Its vice-president, Richard Gillett, ended an 11-day hunger strike on Sunday.

"We want a meeting with Bill Broderick, John Boland, Keith Sullivan and Dave Decker," said Rod Rowe, a fisherman from Fogo who has been fishing more than 30 years, earlier Monday. "The fishermen [are] fed up with the union here. Our voices are not getting to Ottawa."

"You all watched Richard Gillett starve himself. What did Ottawa do? What did our union do? What did our provincial government do? Absolutely nothing. They were willing to let him die. We're not going to sit down and die either."

About 60 fishermen gathered outside the FFAW Monday morning asking for a meeting with the union and insisting the media be present when the two sides sit down.

The FFAW agreed to meet with representatives from each fishing area Wednesday, according to RNC Supt. Joe Boland, who was acting as a liason. But protesting fishermen left when there was no commitment to allow the media to be there.

RNC warned FFAW of threats of violence

The FFAW is set to meet amongst themselves Monday afternoon to discuss the day's events. The building was empty when demonstrators arrived. A spokesperson said they'd been advised Sunday night by the RNC of threats of violence, so the office was closed Monday.

A statement from the FFAW following Monday's protest said the demonstration was organized by FISH-NL to "generate support in light of its struggling union drive that was rejected by 75 per cent of fish harvesters."

The FFAW also accused FISH-NL's president Ryan Cleary and its leadership of "pitting harvester against harvesters, promoting lies and misstating facts," and said there is little Cleary and FISH-NL will not do "to draw attention and boost their profile."

The statement said FFAW will meet with harvesters, but not with FISH-NL, and added that the meeting will take place in private, without media attendance.

Rowe said he spoke with John Boland, a staff representative at the FFAW, by phone who told Rowe to "have at her," before hanging up on him.

"Enough is enough," said protester Donald Spence, who fishes out of the Northern Peninsula.

"I'm a member of FFAW, I pays all my dues and I wants to get in that building today."

The protest at FFAW followed Richard Gillett's address to supporters at his original protest site outside DFO in St. John's on Monday morning.

Gillett was released from hospital Sunday following an 11-day hunger strike.

"I wanted to do a hunger strike because it's non-violent, non-confrontational," Gillett, the vice-president of FISH-NL, told the crowd of about 60 fishermen in front of DFO.

"We may not have gotten exactly what we wanted from the government … but I tell you we got far more."

Gillett said he's gotten calls of support from across the province and that the protest has opened people's eyes to the fishery.  

"That's what this place was built on, was fish. That's why we came here 500 years ago … and we finally brought that back in the forefront."

Gillett was taken away in an ambulance from his protest site outside of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans building in St. John's on Sunday.

Ryan Cleary, president of FISH-NL, saw Gillett that night at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital. He said Gillett lost about 25-30 pounds but that Gillett will "be fine."

"I spoke to him two minutes ago and he was eating a piece of ham," Cleary told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show, adding that Gillett's first meal after his hunger strike was a bowl of soup at the hospital.

Cleary said Gillett told him it was the best thing he's ever eaten.

"He's doing well," Cleary said.

"Bottom line is, he's out of the tent, he's out of the cold and he's eating again."

'There must be change'

Cleary was parked outside DFO headquarters in St. John's, where protesters gathered early Monday morning. 

CBC News has learned employees were notified on Sunday and were told to stay home until further notice.

Protesters angry over DFO management and the department's relationship with the FFAW blocked the exit to the building Friday as workers attempted to leave for the day.

Eventually, everyone was allowed through.

"The pressure is not going to let up for change," Cleary said. "There must be change."

'This is a victory'

Gillett started his hunger strike to urge a review of DFO scientific studies and stock management. He also pleaded for an inquiry of the relationship between DFO and the rival FFAW.

While he didn't quite get what he was fighting for, Gillett now has a meeting scheduled with Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

"That's all that Richard got in terms of a commitment from the federal minister of fisheries and oceans," Cleary said.

Cleary said the group is encouraged by DFO's commitment to review the governance around the decision to not open the spring herring fishery, as well as the department's communication.

Though Gillett's demands were not all met, Cleary said the public is more aware now because of the protest.

"This is a victory — awareness within DFO that there's a problem and within the broader Newfoundland and Labrador populous and the country."