Provincial cabinet ministers have united to form a ministerial committee focused on communities affected by downturns in the fishing sector.
The Ministerial Committee on Fisheries Issues is chaired by Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Darin King and also includes Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien, Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Burke, Innovation, Business and Rural Development Minister Keith Hutchings and Education Minister Clyde Jackman.
“The purpose of the committee is to respond to challenges in the fishing industry, particularly given the recent closures of the fish plants,” said King, speaking with The Telegram Friday.
Earlier this month, High Liner Foods announced it will close its secondary processing plant in Burin by the end of 2012. Plant closures were also announced in recent months for Marystown, Port Union, St. Lewis and Black Tickle.
“People need to understand that government recognizes the significant challenges that communities, people and their families are facing with the closures, and that’s why we responded with the ministerial committee,” King said.
The committee will look to reach out to communities affected by job losses, providing access to programs for employment opportunities and retraining, King said. Ultimately, the committee will explore opportunities for economic development in those regions.
“We’ll be there to engage the stakeholders and obviously give some direction to officials from our departments, who will be on the ground out in communities and regions, meeting with people and trying to move things forward,” said King.
Speaking with reporters on Friday while attending Sportsfest in St. John’s, Premier Kathy Dunderdale said the committee’s work is timely.
“Absolutely, and when any community is affected to this degree by the loss of an industry or some kind of a facility that might be the only source of economic development directly in the community, we respond in this kind of a formal way, so that there are protocols in place that people know who’s in charge of this particular file and where to go to try and find answers.”
The expertise of the ministers involved will be important to the committee’s work, according to King. Jackman’s background as a former Fisheries minister will be useful, as will his role as an MHA for Burin-Placentia West, a region that has been in the news due to fish plant closures.
As minister of Municipal Affairs, O’Brien’s portfolio includes several employment programs, while Hutchings’ department will aid the committee on economic diversification efforts, according to King.
King said Burke’s department will have a role to play on issues concerning the retraining of workers. He also noted the minster’s experience dealing with the aftermath of the Abitibi-Consolidated newsprint mill closure in Stephenville, a community located in her district of St. George’s-Stephenville East.
The committee will meet with various groups in the short-term to help officially identify the workers who are in need of help. Given the High Liner fish plant in Burin is not slated to close until the end of the calender year, King said, employment programs may not be an immediate need for that community.
Discussions with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union is also on the committee’s agenda, King said.
FFAW president Earle McCurdy said the committee’s attention is needed in communities dealing with fish plant closures.
“It’s certainly needed, and we certainly would hope (the committee) will come to the table with a view to putting in place a comprehensive program,” said McCurdy. “I wrote Minister King last week requesting that this be triggered with respect to several plants (closing), and just a couple of hours after I signed off the letter, the closure in Burin was announced.”
McCurdy said plant closures have a huge impact on communities, and he hopes the government can take substantive measures in order to help those affected.
— With files from Daniel MacEachern