Premier Kathy Dunderdale may think it won’t cost the province to partially eliminate minimum processing requirements on seafood, but some people much closer to the fishery disagree.
The change to the minimum processing requirements comes as part of the Canada-Europe free trade deal. Canada will have unrestricted access to European markets with respect to fish products.
Tuesday, Dunderdale announ-ced a $400-million fisheries industry fund that’s part of the new free trade deal — $280 million of it will come from the federal government and the province will ante up the remaining $120 million.
Exactly what that money will be used for is unknown. A government news release was not specific, saying the funds would be used “to invest in research and development, new marketing initiatives, fisheries research and enhancements to provincial fisheries infrastructure.”
While the majority of the 100 people at the premier’s announcement on Tuesday seemed quite impressed with the deal — including FFAW president Earle McCurdy and seafood processors representative Derek Butler — the deal is hardly without its harsh critics.
Leo Seymour is a small-boat fisherman out of Harbour Round.
“I think that’s another nail in the coffin for rural Newfoundland,” Seymour told The Telegram on Wednesday.
Killing minimal processing will kill inshore fishermen like him, he added.
“If you’re doing away with the small processors, then who cares about Leo Seymour if he gets 500 pounds of mackerel or 1,000 pounds of mackerel? Who’s gonna come for that? Nobody.”
He’s not alone in his opinion. Fisheries advocate Gus Etchegary essentially called the deal smoke and mirrors.
“I think it’s one of the biggest sellouts that we’ve experienced since confederation,” he said.
Etchegary thinks the provincial government was told to come across the table with the elimination of the minimum processing in order to get the deal signed.
“Neither of the two ministers who were sitting with her, and certainly Kathy Dunderdale doesn’t have a clue about what the impact is of making unprocessed fish available to foreigners. She hasn’t got a clue.”
As far as the $280 million from the federal government is concerned, that’s just the sellout price, in his opinion.
“They have bribed this woman who sits as premier of Newfoundland,” Etchegary said.
Having an open market is fine, Etchegary said, but there’s a more basic problem with the resource that exists here in this province. There is no scientific capability left in the province, he said, something that’s essential for gaining information on managing, and in some cases rebuilding, a resource.
“Nobody has tired to rectify the basic problem, which is that we have a resource that’s been abandoned by the Department of Fisheries in Ottawa,” he said.
“Having it chopped and chopped and chopped since 1995, they come out now with $280 million. Why?”
Seymour didn’t have much to say about the money as there are so few details yet on what it will be used for. One term he said he doesn’t want to hear again, though, is “fisheries restructuring.”
“I’m after hearing that word ‘restructured’ that often it got me poisoned,” he said.
In his opinion, there shouldn’t be fewer fish plants in the province but more. Sending the product away isn’t going to do anything for fishermen like him.
Etchegary said the consequences of the deal will follow in the wake of its ratification expected in 2015.
“The impact of this is at least two years down the road. At that time, all those who were around that day shouting are gone. And the people who are going to suffer are still here or in Alberta.”