Letter to the editor -
There are a million topics I could write about in the fishery, but most of them stem from the same problem -lack of competition in the buying of fish products.
Derrick Butler of the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) said last spring, when they kicked the Fogo Co-op out of the ASP, that if a plant is in the choir, you are obligated to sing from the same hymn book and with the same tune.
Fogo, which was willing to pay $1.35 for crab, was singing a different tune than the ASP - which was offering $1.07 at the time, and which, to the minds of fishermen, was indeed the maximum which would have been paid were it not for the Fogo Co-op.
If this is not the collusion tactics of a cartel, then somebody tell me what is.
It appears also that the competition board has an hands-off policy towards fish merchants.
Government, however, which protects the monopoly of the cartel, and by so doing becomes an accessory to questionable tactics, should have the larger responsibility of ensuring fair business dealings between processors and harvesters.
Since there is a sign at Port-aux-Basque - "This province closed for business" - in regards to outside fish buyers being permitted in, the government, and in this case Premier Danny Williams, should ensure that in the absence of healthy competition, measures be taken to ensure fisherpeople are being treated fairly.
Take for example this year's caplin fishery, negotiated at top price of eight cents a pound, with fishermen being paid three to four cents a pound, I am hearing.
Twenty years ago, I was paid 85 cents a pound for caplin, back when there was still some competition among the fish merchants.
If ever we are to attract young blood into the fishery, we must throw off the cloak of protectionism for the millionaire processors, and embrace the principles of democracy and free enterprise that are so visibly lacking in the industry. The answer is not to rationalize the industry out of existence, but to ensure that people don't have to bring in millions of pounds of a product for pennies a pound, just to make ends meet -thereby decimating the resource in the bargain.
We need competition brought back into the fishery now. And we need the harvesting licences taken away from the processors.
They are not fishermen and should not have boats on the water in direct competition with the legitimate professional fish harvesters who are just trying to make a living and stay in their communities.
Premier Williams's announcement concerning fishery science may be a step in the right direction, but this government needs to show support for the fisherpeople and their communities, by allowing more multi-species plants, building holding facilities so that smaller boat fishers have somewhere to sell their relatively small daily catches.
With the move towards consolidation of processing plants, small boat fishers have nowhere to sell their product, and consequently can't fish.
Again, I repeat, without free enterprise and meaningful competition, our fishery will cease to exist within 20 years - becoming the exclusive property of a half dozen fish merchants.