Fish plant owner says high dollar is going to hurt

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Andrew Robinson
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Fishery

Canadian seafood companies search for big sales opportunities every year at the International Boston Seafood Show, but an executive of Valleyfield-based Beothic Fish Processors said this year may be tougher than most.

Paul Grant, executive vice-president of the company, attended this year's show along with close to 40 other Canadian companies looking to do business in foreign markets.

Gander -

Canadian seafood companies search for big sales opportunities every year at the International Boston Seafood Show, but an executive of Valleyfield-based Beothic Fish Processors said this year may be tougher than most.

Paul Grant, executive vice-president of the company, attended this year's show along with close to 40 other Canadian companies looking to do business in foreign markets.

Held March 14-16, the show attracted more than 16,000 buyers and sellers from more than 90 countries.

Grant said all of Beothic's buyers from America, Europe and Asia attended.

"It's one-stop shopping in terms of setting up your marketing plans for the year," he said.

Like most industries, the fishery has been affected by the downturn in the economy. Beothic dealt with this last year, and Grant said he has witnessed little to show there is a significant change in store for the near-future.

"Crab typically goes to two markets - either retails or food services," Grant said.

"The grocery stores are doing well, because the price is fairly inexpensive, so they're able to move the product. The demand is there, but we can't push (prices) up, because they're price sensitive."

Within food services, which includes restaurants, he said demand has hit a snag, as consumers are less willing to purchase high-end seafood. As a result, Grant said, low-cost producers have an upper hand, particularly those in China.

The economic woes are compounded for Canadian companies dealing with the American market by the strength of the loonie. In recent weeks, the exchange rate has been near parity, creating a dilemma for Canadian exporters such as Beothic.

According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 80 per cent of Canada's fish and seafood production, by value, is exported.

"It's going to be challenging for the Newfoundland industry with a dollar at close to parity," Grant said.

Price problems

Processors in Newfoundland and Labrador are negotiating prices with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union. Grant said this year it may be difficult for processors to pay fish harvesters enough to get them to catch product.

"It's a product of the financial crisis, and until that starts to subside, we're probably going to be faced with this. It's not necessarily the strength of the Canadian dollar, but the weakness of the U.S. dollar," said Grant.

On the home front, he said companies like Beothic need to avoid accumulating debt in order to make it in the long run. Plants having to meet payroll every Friday will operate at the whim of market prices, and must make do, he added.

The Beacon

"(Fish plants) have to sell something in order to get cash to meet their payroll. If there's something that can be done in this whole process, maybe in the form of inventory financing to allow people to hold on to product longer, it could allow us to do more orderly marketing."

Once the crab market opens next month, Grant said he anticipates the market will realize an over-abundance of product will be available, leading to a downturn in prices.

The price-setting panel for the provincial fishery has recommended a price of $1.35 per pound for crab - a price similar to last year.

There has been much talk within the Newfoundland and Labrador seafood industry to revamping the industry's marketing approach. That matter is being addressed, along with others, in a memorandum of understanding signed by the province, the FFAW, and the Association of Seafood Producers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Provincial Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman recently expressed concerns over a lack of progress being made in the MOU process.

Organizations: Beothic Fish Processors, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Allied Workers Association of Seafood Producers

Geographic location: America, Newfoundland and Labrador, Gander Europe Asia China Canada

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