St. Anthony -
Competition is what Anchor Point's Ren Genge wants.
The owner of the dragger B & B Mariner considers it necessary to the survival of the inshore fleet and consequently the province's shrimp processing plants.
Current legislation prevents out- of-province seafood buyers from coming in and purchasing a fisherman's catch. The legislation was brought in during the late 1980s to ensure this province's seafood was processed at local plants.
But it also means the province's processors don't have to compete with mainland buyers.
"So this year our boat caught its Gulf of St. Lawrence shrimp 20-50 miles from the wharf in Port au Choix and had to steam some 300 miles to land it in North Sydney," said Genge, who wasn't allowed to land his shrimp in Port au Choix and truck it to North Sydney.
While Newfoundland processors were claiming they couldn't pay more than 38 cents per pound., the processor in North Sydney was offering 50 cents per pound as a flat price.
"The shrimp plants in New-foundland are bigger and more modern, so I don't see why they couldn't compete," Genge said. "I don't see why they don't open it up to outside buyers - there's nothing to be afraid of. But we have no one to speak on our behalf - the union can't speak for us because they represent fish plant workers as well and the processors want to keep it the way it is."
The Fish, Food and Allied Workers union also represents the more than 500 employees at the peninsula's four plants (and many others at the 13 shrimp plants in Newfoundland). Shrimp being trucked past those plants to create work in Nova Scotia wouldn't go over well.
Fisheries Minister Tom Hedder-son told The Northern Pen he's unwilling to see that work leave the province.
"To open it up could be more devastating than it is right now," Hedderson said. "This year, unfortunately, we found ourselves not only dealing with the regular challenges, but also the challenges that came about due to the downturn in the economy. So my response to anyone asking for change right now is let's make sure it's not just a knee-jerk reaction to the detriment of the industry."
As for the accusations of many fishermen of collusion between the province's processors - that they banded together to force a lower price on fishermen this year because they didn't have to compete with outside buyers - Hedderson urged caution.
"That's dangerous language. Obviously I won't comment except to say that industry has to regulate itself and be regulated from beyond," Hedderson said. "It is a competitive industry. We have some 13 shrimp plants, I believe, around the province, and they're in competition with one another."
So for now, allowing outside buyers into the province isn't on the government's agenda.
That worries Troy Genge, who along with his brother owns and fishes shrimp from the 65-foot Newfoundland Leader.
"I'd say another year like this and half the fleet is gone," Troy Genge said as he took a break from preparing his boat for the winter shutdown.
"Without the inshore fleet, there will be no work for the plants. Everyone wants to see the shrimp processed here, but the processors have to try to offer competitive prices. Something's screwed up."
Despite this year's shutdown, the crew of the Newfoundland Leader managed to land all but 90,000 pounds of their northern quota. That meant fishing late into the season and hoping for good weather.
"I know it's not been a good year and they tell us they can't pay any more, but I don't believe them. The plants here are plenty modern and when you see them paying 50 cents a pound flat price in Nova Scotia ... well, there's got to be competition."