Fisheries Minister Darin King hasn’t made any decisions yet on the future of fish on the Burin Peninsula — so at least for now, boats will stay tied up at the wharf.
King is under pressure from Ocean Choice International (OCI) to grant exceptions allowing the company to ship out redfish and yellowtail unprocessed.
An exemption on redfish ran out Dec. 31, and King said he’s not ready to renew it yet, even if it means putting some harvesters out of work for a little while.
“We were in discussions with the company right through to the New Year’s Eve deadline; I’ve basically asked for some information from them,” King said. “If it means taking a little more time, it’s unfortunate for the harvesters who are involved, but I have to make sure I understand fully where I want to go with this.
“If that takes a little more time, then so be it.”
OCI has shuttered its Marystown fish plant which processed yellowtail. The company wants an exemption to to ship most of the quota out of the province, in exchange for processing the remainder at its smaller plant in Fortune.
There is essentially no market for redfish in any form other than unprocessed, so OCI is also asking for a continued exemption to ship the whole fish out of the province.
On the first full day back to work after the holidays, King said he spent the largest part of his day in meetings to tackle the issue.
He said he’s prepared to entertain the idea — championed by some commentators — to “leave the fish in the water,” but that isn’t his first choice.
“While leaving it in the water is one option, we’ve got to make sure there are alternatives that will allow the fish to be fished and provide maximum opportunities,” he said.
King said as he looks to find a solution, the one thing he’s not even considering is anything that involves a government subsidy.
“If a processor feels they can make money processing this fish in the province where Ocean Choice can’t, then they ought to be able to put together a solid business plan,” he said. “The question is whether those who are talking publicly on Open Line about that can do that, or whether or not they’re trying to get more government money through the back door.”
King wasn’t going to be pinned down to any sort of deadline for how long it would take him to come to a decision on the exemptions.
The best he would say is that he’ll make a decision “within a very very short time frame.”