OCI boss encouraged by export exemption

Terry Roberts
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Company hopes for brighter future for Marystown plant

It may sound counterintuitive, but the man at the helm of Ocean Choice International (OCI) is hopeful an exemption that will allow the company to ship more yellowtail flounder to China for processing will mean a brighter future for the processing plant in Marystown.

The provincial government gave the company a one-year exemption earlier this week that will allow it to export yellowtail under 450 grams to China, where it can be processed at a much lower cost.

It may sound counterintuitive, but the man at the helm of Ocean Choice International (OCI) is hopeful an exemption that will allow the company to ship more yellowtail flounder to China for processing will mean a brighter future for the processing plant in Marystown.

The provincial government gave the company a one-year exemption earlier this week that will allow it to export yellowtail under 450 grams to China, where it can be processed at a much lower cost.

Previously, the benchmark was less than 380 grams.

With the exemption, the company believes it will now be viable to harvest its full quota of yellowtail, which will mean more work for the Marystown facility, which will process the larger, more profitable, fish.

It's expected that half of the company's quota of more than 14,000 metric tons will go to China, where labour rates are much lower.

In recent years, landings have been well below the total allowable catch, with the company saying it was losing money in Marystown because the small fish are very labour intensive.

OCI president and CEO Martin Sullivan said Thursday the company will now step up its harvesting efforts.

"There will be a lot more fish processed at Marystown than there has been the last couple of years," Sullivan said.

He added that the roughly 120 people who crew the company's four vessels at Marystown will also get more work.

The company asked for the exemption late last year, pledging to provide 35 weeks of work at the plant for roughly 230 employees if the government signed off on the request.

Otherwise, the company suggested it would have to operate for less weeks with fewer workers.

It put the provincial government and the fisheries union in a difficult position.

The provincial government does not want to see unprocessed fish products shipped to Asia, but must also do what it can to protect jobs at the plant. Workers were also concerned that a reduction in work weeks would threaten their health benefits, and undermine the future of the plant.

In the end, both Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman and the plantworkers agreed to the exemption, but only after the company agreed to a financial analysis of its Marystown operations by provincial auditors.

"When you get someone who says to you, 'we need these hours and these weeks of work. I have a health plan that's contingent on us working.' And when you have someone who's 59 years of age who's faced with the situation of either having to work or go away to look for work, well, they are kind of backed in a corner," Jackman said Thursday.

The exemption comes with some conditions. For example, the company must agree to surprise inspections to make sure it is abiding by the export rules, and promise to modify its harvesting plan in order to harvest as much of the quota as possible.

And in the event the company asks for another exemption next year, the province has demanded that another financial analysis be done.

Sullivan said the company hopes to finalize the terms of the agreement in the coming days, and then move very quickly to put all the pieces in place.

"We will put more vessel capacity fishing the yellowtail so that we can have a good crack at catching most of the quota this year," Sullivan added.

The Marystown plant is now totally dependent on yellowtail founder. Traditionally, the larger American plaice flatfish accounted for most of the activity in Marystown, but that species is now under moratorium.

Sullivan is hopeful that the species has recovered, and expects there will be quotas of American plaice in the next year or two.

"In some ways this (exemption) is like a bridge to get us back to the historical processing mix of flatfish," Sullivan said.

Sullivan also challenged those who contend the company is not living up to the commitments it made in 2007 when it purchased the assets of Fishery Products International.

He said that is not the case, and the request for an exemption is a result of the economic situation in the world.

He added that the company is also committed to harvesting and processing improvements, including new technology, and is poised to launch a worldwide marketing effort to try and get better returns on yellowtail flounder.

"We're approaching this in a positive way that it can mean better things for Marystown in the future," he said.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: OCI, Fishery Products International

Geographic location: Marystown, China, Asia

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Mark
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    What size of a net do you have to use to target fish under 450 grams in size?

  • Mark
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    What size of a net do you have to use to target fish under 450 grams in size?