OCI president defends fishery at World Seafood Congress

Josh Pennell
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Some of the Martin Sullivan’s keynote address at the 2013 World Seafood Congress at the Delta Hotel in St. John’s on Tuesday sounded quite familiar to anybody who follows the news of the fishing industry in this province.

President and CEO of OCI, Martin Sullivan gives the keynote address at the 2013 World Seafood Congress at the Delta Hotel Tuesday night. — Photo by Josh Pennell/The Telegram

Martin is the president and CEO of Ocean Choice International (OCI). He’s been arguing for some time that the way much of the world wants seafood isn’t the traditional way Newfoundlanders, Canadians or even North Americans would have it.

Where the U.S. was the predominant market for the province’s seafood at one point, Asia is now a key buyer. And that means catering to different cultural customs and preferences.

”The market demand has increased dramatically for whole products,” Sullivan said. “They fish differently than we do.”

Many of their customers are now requiring having a species shipped in the whole form — that is with little or no processing — as that’s the way they consume seafood.

It was an argument made when OCI requested and was granted permission to ship yellowtail flounder out of the province unprocessed.

“Locally here, there’s a huge misconception that all product is shipped for further processing. I hear that all the time on the open line shows and so on.”

That’s not so, Sullivan said. It’s shipped and eaten that way. About 80 per cent of the province’s seafood is shipped in some unprocessed form already, he said, whether processed at sea or on land.

Things like the minimum processing requirement hurt local businesses like OCI competing on the international market, Sullivan argued.


Free trade

Canada is currently involved in intense negotiations with the EU about the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), the results of which Sullivan has high hopes will be in the favour of the seafood industry. Levelling the playing field when it comes to tariffs is imperative, he said.

“We really believe this is going to be a game changer for our industry. It’s going to open up a huge market that currently have very high tariff regimes on the species we sell from eight to 20 per cent and it’s making us uncompetitive for exporting a number of our species into Europe.”

Sullivan again took on the subject of minimum processing requirements, this time with respect to tariffs.

“It’s our belief that we shouldn’t sacrifice low or zero tariffs that benefit everybody in the business to keep minimum processing requirements in place because we think that’s false protection for a few.”



Sullivan spoke quite passionately about the seafood industry as a sustainable method of harvesting food.

“We need to recast the fisheries argument to one of sustainable food production rather than marine conservation,” Sullivan said.

Growing world populations mean that there is an increasing demand for food and Sullivan asked if it doesn’t come from the sea, where will it come from? The obvious answer, of course, is from the land, but Sullivan argued that environmentally, seafood is the better option. He even went so far as to ask why there is such a bad rap given to trawling when there are other forms of protein production that are far worse.

It would take 22 times the world’s rainforests to replace 80 million tonnes of fish from captured fisheries, he said.

“It’s a good way of illustrating the point of what the impact would be if we don’t have fish.”

Eliminating the trawlers would require five times the word’s rainforests to replace the protein lost, he added.

Sullivan also took exception to how the industry and its workers are sometimes painted. Farmers, even large scale ones, are looked at as noble workers of the land whereas fishing enterprises are labelled as pillagers of the land, he said.

“We think its a vary unfair characterization when the actual impact  environmentally is much less from what we do versus a lot of the land based protein and I think it needs to be said more.”


Property rights

Sullivan also brought up the very touchy subject of property rights with respect to fisheries regimes.

“When you own something you look after it better,” he said.

To be fully internationally competitive, Sullivan said he believes property rights in fisheries need to be adopted.

“Generally it is taboo in this province to talk about this because a lot of people associate it with corporate concentration and the evils of that.”

Sullivan argued that wasn’t the case and an open discussion on the pros and cons of such a change needs to take place for fishermen to have freedom to grow  and control their own enterprises.



Organizations: OCI, World Seafood Congress, EU

Geographic location: U.S., Asia, Europe

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