Ocean Choice International (OCI) does not think it’s fair for the company to be singled out for its exporting practices.
On Tuesday, president and CEO Martin Sullivan said the head of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ (FFAW) union misled the public when he stated OCI exports 80 per cent of its fish for processing.
Sullivan used data compiled by the Department of Fisheries (DFO) and Oceans to show the vast majority of product exported from the province is done so in whole form.
“That’s done for two reasons — No. 1 is because customers want it in that product form, and No. 2 is it returns the greatest economic value back to the province.”
According to DFO’s landings and landed values by species in 2011, 79.3 per cent of exported product based on dollar value in Newfoundland and Labrador was sent off in whole form.
Sullivan said changes in the market have made it necessary to export product to gulf markets in Asia, southern and eastern Europe and Russia.
“They consume fish differently than we do, and they’re willing to pay for it,” he said.
In China, for example, Sullivan said fish is consumed with the head attached, as is often the case in Japan. In parts of southern Europe, fish are gutted and beheaded on the plate.
“We’re used to eating fillets and other processed seafood, as is North America and Western Europe. But what we see in the gulf markets of the world is people consume it very differently. Their culture is different, and that’s the way they like to eat fish.”
Sullivan noted the FFAW was among those who supported the initial lifting of export restrictions, and said that move has increased the value of product.
“For example, on snow crab, when we had to produce meat back in the ’80s and ’90s, fishermen were getting 40 or 50 cents a pound. Now we see that they get up to $2.50 a pound, which is 500 per cent more. Do we want to go back to the point where we’re paying fishermen 50 cents again and forced to produce meat?
“Do we want to go back and produce fillets from our turbot and get 50 or 60 cents a pound, when fishermen get up to $2 a pound, or do we want to continue the policy of exporting fish from Newfoundland to give the maximum value back to the province and all the participants in the business.”
No more giveaways
Sullivan went on to say his company is in support of putting an end to giveaways from the province. He said policies put in place by the government have helped Newfoundland and Labrador.
“All we’re asking is that we be given the same consideration when it comes to redfish and flatfish so on those species we can maximize value for the province as well.”
Sullivan also noted all exported fish is processed either on land or at sea in federally registered processing plants. Though he said fewer processing jobs exist at sea, Sullivan added that year-round equivalent jobs in processing offer better wages and benefits.
“When we talk about trying to get young people into the business, the only way we can get them in is with year-round jobs. They’re not interested anymore in working seasonal jobs. That’s why we having an aging workforce that’s 20 years older than when the moratorium started, because we can’t get young people in.”
OCI wants the provincial government to grant the company an exemption to ship out most of its yellowtail and redfish quotas unprocessed. In exchange, it’s offering year-round processing jobs at a fish plant in Fortune. Sullivan said he has heard nothing new from government on that request.
On Jan. 6, provincial Fisheries Minister Darin King said the province would not allow a permanent exemption.
“If they say no, we won’t be able to operate that business,” said Sullivan. “We’ve had almost four years processing flatfish at a tremendous loss, and we just can’t continue like that.”
Last month, the company closed its operations in Marystown and Port Union.
Reached by The Telegram to comment on Sullivan’s statements to media, FFAW president Earle McCurdy said OCI has overstated the export issue. He took particular exception with Sullivan’s comments on crab.
“Every single pound of crab that’s landed in Newfoundland goes through a processing plant and creates jobs,” said McCurdy, adding there are approximately 25 plants processing crab in the province employing 3,000 people on a seasonal basis.
McCurdy said the economic spinoffs from keeping plants open in the province outweigh the economic value created from exporting fish.
“The highest return for (Sullivan) maybe, but what about the people?”