One of the biggest challenges of modernizing the province’s fishery, says Martin Sullivan, chief executive officer of Ocean Choice International, is that it’s taboo to even discuss what might have to be done in order to restructure it.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Employer’s Council (NLEC) is holding its annual conference at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s. A CEO panel discussion opened the conference Wednesday morning featuring (from left) Peter Woodward, president of operations of the Woodward Group of Cos. discussing transportation and infrastructure issues in Labrador; Martin Sullivan, CEO of Ocean Choice International discussing the competitiveness of the fishery and Jason Muise, managing director of Technip Canada in St. John’s, who shared the viewpoint of a multinational firm operating in Newfoundland & Labrador. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Sullivan commented on the challenge of modernizing the local fishery during a panel discussion of the Newfoundland & Labrador Employers’ Council annual conference Wednesday.
”There are over 20,000 people working in the fishery but there’s only 9,000 full-time equivalents,” Sullivan said. ”Really what it means is the average worker is working four or five months a year. That’s OK when you’re 55 or 60 and you’ve only ever worked in the fishery. You’re in a rural area and you own your house. But getting a young person to come in? The only place we can attract young people is in our head office or in our sales offices around the world.”
Sullivan said that it was a huge challenge of which people are very aware, but also afraid to deal with or even debate.
“There’s an institutional problem, I think, in terms of how to deal with these real challenging issues in an open and frank way without getting personal.”
Fewer people working in the industry would mean full-time work rather than seasonal and it would also offer support of a good, competitive wage, Sullivan added. Sullivan painted a portrait of these changes being imperative for a younger generation to take an interest in the fishery.
FFAW president Earle McCurdy agreed that finding young people to enter the fishery is of vital importance, but he disagreed with the notion that fewer people have to be involved in the industry to restructure it.
“I never bought reducing the number of people as an objective,” McCurdy said.
McCurdy wasn’t at the conference, but was contacted by phone following the panel discussion.
The union has sought a rationalization of the fishery — not to change the number of people in it, but to increase the income.
McCurdy didn’t agree with Sullivan’s notion that reducing the number of those involved was how to reach that goal. The big hurdle is not that there are too many people in the fishery but that it costs too much to get into it. It’s not just a matter of catching more fish, according to McCurdy.
“Whether or not a bigger quota means somebody is better off depends on how much debt they incurred to obtain a quota,” he said.
Few can afford to enter the fishery without crippling themselves so financially that there’s no way for them to fish their way out of it, McCurdy said.
Sullivan was very focused on at least talking about the issue and possible solutions.
“We really have to engage that debate,” he said.