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ST. JOHN’S, NL — About a dozen fishermen interrupted a news conference with the country’s environment ministers in St. John’s on Wednesday to demand that the federal government reinstate a 32-year-old moratorium on commercial cod fishing in the province.

ST. JOHN’S, NL — About a dozen fishermen interrupted a news conference with the country’s environment ministers in St. John’s on Wednesday to demand that the federal government reinstate a 32-year-old moratorium on commercial cod fishing in the province.

Protesters sounded a siren on a megaphone and carried signs reading “Save our cod” and “Stop offshore trawling” as fisherman Glen Winslow took the podium to deliver his message.

He said he and other members of the union representing coastal fisheries opposed Ottawa’s recent decision to reopen the fishery and give a share of the catch to foreign and deep-sea vessels – known as trawlers.

“This is very important to all Newfoundlanders, this is the lifeblood of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, there’s no mistake about that,” Winslow said. “It’s unfortunate that we had to interrupt your meeting here today to get the message out, but it seems we have no other choice.”

Canada’s Council of Environment Ministers was in St. John’s for a regular meeting to discuss climate change. The event was hosted by Bernard Davis, Minister of Climate and Environment in the Liberal government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

He and his colleagues did not seem bothered by the fishermen, who left after Winslow and Greg Pretty, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, each gave short speeches and called for a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I support what they are trying to accomplish to protect the fisheries for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in the long term,” Davis said of the fishermen. “I fully understand that this is their livelihood.”

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, who attended the event in St. John’s, said responsibility for the fishery rests with Canada’s Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier. He said he would bring the fishery workers’ request to her and Trudeau for a meeting.

Ottawa first imposed a moratorium on commercial cod fishing off the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1992. Cod was once the backbone of the province’s fisheries, but after years of mismanagement, overfishing and environmental changes, cod stocks collapsed.

The Canadian federal government announced last month that it would reopen the fishery for the 2024 season. The total allowable catch for Canada is 18,000 tonnes. An additional 950 tonnes could be caught by foreign offshore vessels.

Although ministers from many provinces that oppose the federal carbon price attended the St. John’s conference, Guilbeault said the carbon price – often called a “carbon tax” – did not dominate the discussions. When the issue did come up, there was little tension, he said.

“I would say the tone of our discussions over the last few days has been collegial,” he said.

He spoke about the urgency of climate change, noting that extreme weather events such as fires and floods now occur every year across the country. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil is drilling a deep-water well in waters about 500 kilometers off the coast of St. John’s in the hope of finding more oil.

Guilbeault approved an offshore oil exploration project led by Norwegian energy giant Equinor in the same area in 2022.

“We are trying to find ways to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our dependence on zero-emission technologies,” the minister said. “We will continue to use fossil fuels even in a carbon-neutral world in 2050. We will use far less fossil fuels, be it oil or natural gas, than we use today, but they will still play a role in our energy portfolio in a carbon-neutral world.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2024.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press