Sea urchin harvesters from around the province have decided to boycott that fishery, shutting it down.
The decision was made at a meeting Monday, at which harvesters and union representation were present, spurred on by the experience of one sea urchin processor, Hodder’s Shellfish Inc.
“I’m ready to walk out. I don’t care anymore,” said Jerry Hodder, who owns the business with his wife, Alisha Hodder.
Government decisions are holding them back, the Hodders said, also resulting in plant workers and harvesters losing work.
The problem is they can’t ship out excess product raw because they have to meet a processing ratio.
The Hodders started their processing facility in the early fall. The fishery at that time allowed for 25 per cent of the product bought by a plant to be shipped out raw if the other 75 per cent was processed. The Hodders say they wanted to delay opening their facility through October because urchins are in much better condition in November. They didn’t want to train their processing workers in on poor product and risk sinking their business before it had a chance to swim. But, according to them, the provincial government told them if they didn’t start, they could lose their licence.
That first 10 days, the Hodders shipped out a lot more than 25 per cent of the urchins they brought in. Alisha said they shipped out about 90 per cent. Those urchins shouldn’t even have been taken out of the water, she said, and wouldn’t have been if they were given a choice. The Hodders can’t ship out any more raw product whatsoever until they process enough to reach the 75-25 ratio.
That’s unfair, they said, and it’s a ratio they’ll never be able to meet.
There are only two other sea urchin processors in the province besides the Hodders, but they don’t move near the product of the husband-and-wife team. They employ 23 people in their processing facility that they say get 50 hours per week. Their facility operates 24 hours a day now, but they still can’t process all the urchins that harvesters can supply.
That means they’re turning away harvesters. In one good day, there are enough sea urchins brought in to keep the Hodders and the other two plants going for a week, Jerry says. He argues if they make it competitive and allow any plant that keeps itself at capacity to ship out the excess raw, then everybody wins: the plants have more than they can handle, the harvesters get to keep working, and the industry gets to keep growing.
He said he’s being penalized for being ambitious and for giving the harvesters a return that keeps them coming to his plant moreso than the other two.
“All the harvesters don’t want to go back to the plants they used to deal with,” said Jerry.
Alisha is very clear that she wants as much product as possible to be processed at their facility, and shipping urchins out raw isn’t a preference, but a necessity, to keep people in work.
Now, unless something changes, nobody will be getting any urchins. In support of the Hodders and in opposition to being put out of work by provincial rules, harvesters voted to shut it all down by not taking any more product out of the water.
The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture did not respond to The Telegram as of deadline.