Ocean Choice CEO issues call to action on ‘broken’ fishery

Daniel
Daniel MacEachern
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Ocean Choice International CEO Martin Sullivan speaks to reporters Tuesday after speaking to the St. John’s Board of Trade. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The CEO of Ocean Choice International says the Newfoundland fishery is broken, and less government interference would fix it.

Martin Sullivan, speaking at the St. John’s Board of Trade luncheon at the Sheraton Hotel Tuesday, issued what he said was a “call to action” to the industry.

“The Newfoundland fishing industry model is broken,” he told the audience. “It’s not viable as it exists now, and unless we change, it won’t be viable in the future. The restructuring is a necessity right now, not something that we might want to do. And we don’t need any more studies. We’ve had lots of studies and reports coming out of your yin-yangs since the early ’80s, and most of them are saying the same thing.”

Chief among Sullivan’s complaints is that while market requirements are changing, with growing demand — especially in Asian markets — for whole fish, such as yellowtail, but minimum-processing requirements are hamstringing his company.

Sullivan added other competitors around the world — or even in Canada — don’t face the same restrictions.

“We have to be able to produce what the market wants if we’re going to maximize the value for everybody. That’s fishermen, processors, employees in plants and so on. We have to be allowed to sell the products the markets wants to bring back the best return to this province,” he said.

After the luncheon, Sullivan said he thinks there’s “hundreds of millions of dollars” in lost value in the ocean because the industry can’t provide what the market wants.

“We have 15 species for which there’s a specified processing requirement,” he said. “A lot of times, that’s contrary to what the market wants. So we basically want the opportunity to sell what the market wants, and lift those restrictions so we can increase value for our products, and that’ll translate back into better incomes for fishermen, better incomes for plant workers and better incomes for companies in the business.”

Sullivan pointed to yellowtail as an example.

“We’re required to produce fillets, which you can only really sell in North America or Western Europe, whereas the market demand is in Asia, where they want it in the whole format. So we’re restricted from producing a product that will bring better value back to the province. It (would) allow us to catch our entire quota, not leave thousands of tonnes of fish in the water, and (would) create a huge economic spinoff.”

Sullivan rejected the suggestion that doing less processing would cost jobs, because he said in this instance, jobs would be added on the boats, and wages and benefits would go up.

Sullivan said failure to lift restrictions would eventually result in the closure of fish plants.

“We have to adapt to the international market. All our competitors around the world basically can produce the products they want for the market,” he said. “If we don’t change that, as I said, our competitiveness is eroding over time, so in time, we’ll get less competitive every year. So it’s hard to predict exactly when that might happen, but it will inevitably happen if we don’t have change.”

Meanwhile, Port Union plant workers are still waiting to find out when that plant will reopen following extensive damage done by hurricane Igor last year. Rumours are circulating that Ocean Choice will be looking for a cash settlement from the insurance company and building a new crab plant in Bonavista, rather than reopen the Port Union shrimp plant. Sullivan said the company hasn’t made a decision yet to build in Bonavista, but didn’t rule it out.

“We’re looking at investments in Bonavista. We haven’t made decisions yet, but obviously it’s a very old plant, it was built in the ’50s, and that’s something we’re actively looking at but we haven’t made any decisions yet,” he said. “We’ll be deciding something on that over the next few months.”

As for when Port Union employees will hear about reopening the plant there, Sullivan said an announcement could be forthcoming soon.

“There’s meetings this morning, again this afternoon. We’re trying to get that finalized,” he said. “This has dragged on too long, so we’re trying to get that done so we can sit down with the workers and explain everything. But we don’t have an answer yet, unfortunately.”

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com

 Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Board of Trade, Sheraton Hotel, Port Union

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Canada, Bonavista North America Western Europe Asia

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  • randy
    November 23, 2011 - 20:09

    if they take to insurance money and build a new plant in bonavista,,the peaple of catalina,port union,melrose little catalina should block highway 230 and not allow any fish product to move anywhere. That's my opinion Why not take the money fix the more modern port union plant and shut down the bonavista plant.Either that our sell port union to another company,and oci can go to where ever they like

  • paul
    November 23, 2011 - 17:17

    fish stocks belong to the people of Canada, not just the 'processors'. any changes in the fishing industry have to accomodate everyone as well as can be...fish harvesters, plant workers, and the merchants... profit is not a dirty word but it can not be the last word.

  • Dave
    November 23, 2011 - 15:12

    "the market demand is in Asia, where they want it in the whole format." Then let Asia buy it somewhere else. It gets processed here or it stays in the water.

  • David
    November 23, 2011 - 13:13

    Yes, it's high time we discussed saving the fishery. And while we're all at the table, how about we discuss an allegedly open barn door? Some have said they saw several horses take off out of the barn over the last 25 years, but I'm convinced that if we just get together and discuss what it might take to implement a sound strategy to implement the eventual repositioning of that door into a more closed, or less open, position .....Oh. I've just been informed that the last horse was found dead two years ago. Let's turn the barn into a 'world class' horse museum...tourists love that stuff.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    November 23, 2011 - 10:40

    It is a misnomer for the processors to call themselves the "Association of Seafood Producers" (ASP). ++++++ They 'process' nothing and 'produce' little or nothing, and want to 'produce' even less. ++++++ They just want to 'buy' and 'ship". ++++ So they should change their name to the "Association of Seafood Shippers" (or 'ASS', for short).

    • Eli
      November 23, 2011 - 15:02

      Now Maurice, Clyde Jackman was issued with an MOU when he was minister of fisheries. That MOU called for reduced plants and fishers. He didn't have the gonads to implement it simply because it put his re-election on the line. Today just one boat can cach the equivalent of 200 or more inshore fishermen. The bays are full of 'em. Those who got into the fishery post moratorium shouldn't be bought out and a lot more of 'em have to go. I don't like it but them's the facts.

  • k
    November 23, 2011 - 10:38

    Martin Sullivan is a ceo .for Ocean Choice who pays him. The inshore will die if they have their way.

  • Cyril Adams
    November 23, 2011 - 08:05

    Maybe it is time for government to step back and let the fishery choose it's own future.

  • stephen short
    November 23, 2011 - 07:18

    Remember what happened the last time plant owners got greedy. Can you say MORATORIUM.