Minister says government won't be 'threatened or bullied'
Fisheries Minister Darin King announced Friday morning that Ocean Choice International (OCI) has been denied a permanent redfish exemption. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
Fisheries Minister Darin King delivered a very public dressing-down to Ocean Choice International (OCI), accusing them of resorting to threats and bullying when it comes to fish processing on the Burin Peninsula.
King also flatly turned down OCI's request for a permanent exemption allowing them to ship the majority of their yellowtail and redfish out of the province unprocessed.
Ocean Choice has shuttered its Marystown fish plant, and wants to move operations to a smaller fish plant in Fortune. Through November and December, the company said it needed permanent exemptions to the province's minimum processing requirements in order to make the plan happen.
Ocean Choice CEO Martin Sullivan said that if an exemption on redfish wasn't extended beyond Dec. 31, boats would end up being tied up.
Speaking to the media, King was clearly angry the company has acquired extra quota for redfish and is currently out fishing it, with the option to land the product in Nova Scotia.
"The company has said if we provide an exemption, they will land the fish in Newfoundland and Labrador, otherwise it will be landed in Nova Scotia," King said.
"We certainly don't appreciate these kinds of pressure tactics. This action is not helpful or respectful."
Part of the issue seems to be that OCI only recently gave the government financial information around their redfish operations. It has previously opened its books to a months-long audit of all the numbers in their yellowtail business in Marystown before they closed down the plant.
Blaine Sullivan, chief operating officer at OCI, said the company only got a formal request for the redfish numbers in late December.
The company said it would give the government access to their books, but the government should, in turn, extend the redfish exemption while the audit was going on.
"We're reluctant to go into an invasive process like this," Sullivan said.
"If we're going to start now, at this very late date, the same type of in-depth look at redfish, well then you should at least let us continue our business while we're being co-operative."
Sullivan's version of events is at odds with what King said happened. King said the government originally asked for the financial details back in late October or early November. In December, King said, Ocean Choice said it would only give over the redfish numbers in exchange for another temporary exemption.
"We're not prepared to be threatened or bullied in that way."
Once the government can get the information it needs, and get it independently verified, King said he'd make a decision within three weeks or so.
King said at its core he'll stick to the same two principles that he's talked about from Day 1: no government subsidies for the fishery, and making moves that maximize the benefit of the resource for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
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