Proposing a makeover

Terry Roberts
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Key players submit ideas aimed at bringing stability, viability back into troubled industry

The floundering fishing industry is a step closer toward a major shake-up following a meeting of some key players in St. John's on Friday.

And all the talk following that meeting focused on ways to close processing plants, reduce the number of fishing enterprises, enhance the marketability of fish products and ease the transition of people out of the industry.

Fishing vessels sit tied up at Prossers Rock small boat basin on the south side of St. John's harbour. Key players in the province's fishing industry met in St. John's Friday to discuss the sector's future. - Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

The floundering fishing industry is a step closer toward a major shake-up following a meeting of some key players in St. John's on Friday.

And all the talk following that meeting focused on ways to close processing plants, reduce the number of fishing enterprises, enhance the marketability of fish products and ease the transition of people out of the industry.

But there were few specifics, including which plants should close or who might still have a future in the fishery.

It was also clear that there's still plenty of work to do before the instability and unpredictability that has been so prevalent in the fishery over the years can become a thing of the past.

Friday's meeting was the latest - and so far the most tangible - step in an effort to restructure the fishery, as set out in a memorandum of understanding signed last summer between the province, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' union (FFAW), and the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP). The federal government has not been part of the process.

The union and producers both submitted restructuring proposals. Those documents, which were not released publicly, are now in the hands of the MOU steering committee.

Fisheries union president Earle McCurdy said his submission focused on the need to rationalize the harvesting fleet. He said 60 per cent of core licence holders are over age 50.

He said there needs to be a voluntary, cost-shared downsizing of the fleet, with government and industry providing the funding to buy out licences.

He said a new marketing strategy is also critical, since harvesters are struggling to cope with low raw material prices.

The union is also proposing a government loan agency with a broader mandate, including for the purchase of quotas and licences.

"This would facilitate the combining (of enterprises) and open the door to new entrants," he said.

As for plant closures, McCurdy said he's concerned about the impact on plant workers and harvesters, and described government's transition program for workers as "totally inadequate."

He's also worried about the affect plant closures might have on the ability of harvesters to sell their catch in a competitive marketplace.

McCurdy spoke highly of a marketing strategy brought forward by processors, saying it had potential.

ASP executive director Derek Butler said it's critical to address the overcapacity issue. He blames the industry's marketing problems on its current structure.

"We can't leave the fishery in the 20th century while the rest of the world and our competitors move into the 21st," he said.

Butler would not say how many plants have to go, but he did hint at what kind of criteria might be used to determine a plant's future.

"What we'd like to do is talk about regional centres, key communities, displaced workers, available workforce and port competition. So, there's a number of elements to it."

He referred to something called a "modified reverse auction" system whereby processing companies would bid on others, and then decommission the plant they purchased. Under such a scenario, the amount of raw material would be spread among fewer plants, and potentially lead to extended operating seasons, and a more orderly fishery.

He said there might be a role for government in providing low-interest loans, but said the rationalization would be paid for by industry.

"What we are proposing is a mechanism for funding of a loan that would buy out capacity in the industry," he added.

Just like on the harvesting side, he said the process would be voluntary.

Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman agrees there needs to be a downsizing in the industry and believes it can happen.

"I've talked to harvesters who say there are people ready to get out of this industry. There are others willing to pick up additional licences if there are some ways we can do that," Jackman said.

The province has indicated a willingness to contribute financially to any restructuring. Jackman said the federal government will be approached once a final proposal is ready.

"I do believe that if we can come up with a reasonable and rational strategy and put it to the federal government, I would expect they should become partners."

Jackman said the process will move as quickly as possible.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Association of Seafood Producers, Allied Workers

Geographic location: St. John's

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  • Taxpayer ll
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Floundering Fishery, that's a good one.

  • Maurice E.
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    CORRECTED COPY: If there were 200 farms in NL in 1990 and in that year these 200 farms produced $500 million worth of product, then 15 to 20 years later there were only 100 farms producing $1 Billion worth of product, (for about a 4 fold increase in production value per farm from $2.5 to $10 Million per plant), and to produce this 4 fold increase in production value, these farms now needed to hire only half as many farm hands as they did in 1990 (saving about $100 million every year in costs less payments to their farm hands), why would any government in its right mind agree that the number of farms needed to be further reduced? Surely the government is being sold one hell of a bill of goods if they buy into this so-called RATIONALIZATION policy (a policy rooted in GREED, a policy that has been going on in NL since 1990, a policy which is rooted in negativity, a policy which is representative of a government that has no positive vision, no positive strategy, and no positive action plan to benefit our coastal fishing communities. Making a few wealthy processors more wealthy, and doing so by removing that wealth from the ordinary citizen, from the plant workers, from the communities, from the fishers and from the indirect jobs previously associated with this industry ---- is nothing short of a betrayal of our culture, our economy, and our social well-being as a people. Wake up Danny. Wake up Clyde Jackman.

  • Taxpayer ll
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Floundering Fishery, that's a good one.

  • Maurice E.
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    CORRECTED COPY: If there were 200 farms in NL in 1990 and in that year these 200 farms produced $500 million worth of product, then 15 to 20 years later there were only 100 farms producing $1 Billion worth of product, (for about a 4 fold increase in production value per farm from $2.5 to $10 Million per plant), and to produce this 4 fold increase in production value, these farms now needed to hire only half as many farm hands as they did in 1990 (saving about $100 million every year in costs less payments to their farm hands), why would any government in its right mind agree that the number of farms needed to be further reduced? Surely the government is being sold one hell of a bill of goods if they buy into this so-called RATIONALIZATION policy (a policy rooted in GREED, a policy that has been going on in NL since 1990, a policy which is rooted in negativity, a policy which is representative of a government that has no positive vision, no positive strategy, and no positive action plan to benefit our coastal fishing communities. Making a few wealthy processors more wealthy, and doing so by removing that wealth from the ordinary citizen, from the plant workers, from the communities, from the fishers and from the indirect jobs previously associated with this industry ---- is nothing short of a betrayal of our culture, our economy, and our social well-being as a people. Wake up Danny. Wake up Clyde Jackman.