The hill is alive with the sound of an excavator at the start of the road leading to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) headquarters in St. John’s where Twillingate fisherman Richard Gillett held an 11-day hunger strike in April.
The site where Gillett pitched his tent is all mud now.
An excavator has been working on the land there in recent days, but it’s not known what will become of the hill.
There is also a recently installed security checkpoint further down the road, closer to the building. All visitors to the North West Atlantic Fisheries Centre now have to check in at the security office.
According to a statement from DFO, the excavation and the security office are part of new security and safety protocols being implemented at the facility.
“In the spring of 2017, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Public Services Procurement Canada carried out a comprehensive review of the security and safety protocols at the North West Atlantic Fisheries Centre facility in St. John’s. The safety and well-being of our employees is our top priority and the findings of this safety and security review are now being implemented.”
Gillett’s hunger strike started on April 13 and his supporters caused a bit of disruption at times for people trying to enter and leave the facility. But that wasn’t the only protest action by fishermen in the spring that caused some concern for DFO officials.
About a week earlier, on April 7, a group of protesting fishermen kicked in a window at the building’s main entrance and stormed inside, wandering the halls in search of specific staff familiar with shrimp science and fisheries management issues.
Although the protesters remained peaceful after they entered the building, there were some tense moments for DFO staff, who didn’t know the intentions of the fishermen.
Ryan Cleary, president of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), posted photos and made comment about the excavation on social media Wednesday. He said it appears DFO is beefing up security for what is to come in the troubled Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.
“Obviously, (the security measures are) arising out of the unrest experienced at the building in the spring,” Cleary said. “Everybody in the fishing industry knows that things are getting worse, so I’m sure when DFO reviews its safety protocols it is doing it for a good reason. They know what’s coming. There’s a storm coming.
“Everybody is talking about it. It’s not all the small boats, it’s the big boats. If you don’t have shrimp and crab and you don’t have any money to make your payments, that creates a certain desperation that everybody has to be wary of.”
Gillett, a high-profile fisherman who once starred on Discovery Channel’s “Cold Water Cowboys” and is vice-president of FISH-NL, made his stand on the hill and set up tents and stayed at the site around the clock for 11 days, subsisting on a water-only diet before being taken away by ambulance.
He had demanded a meeting with Dominic LeBlanc, the federal minister of fisheries, and wanted a review of the relationship between the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW)-Unifor union and DFO. He also demanded a review of the science and management of all fish stocks around the province.
With snow crab and shrimp quotas declining, and northern cod stocks still years away from being able to support a significant commercial fishery, things in the fishing industry are looking dismal.
“The Newfoundland and Labrador fishery is in hard shape, and destined to get worse,” Cleary said. “Harvesters are telling me that with what’s gone on in 2017 alone and the outlook for the fishery is so bleak, DFO is probably preparing for the worst.”