Cod is king — in China

Published on January 12, 2016

The king of Newfoundland and Labrador is dead, long live the codfish king.
But it will take a monumental effort to elevate our iconic cod back to its historic throne of global powerhouse.

Challenge appears on every front — including reintroducing cod into a world fish market dominated by cheap, Chinese product, and a potential foreign takeover of local plants and quotas.

While snow crab and cold water shrimp represent an important fraction of global production, not so with Newfoundland and Labrador cod stocks, which are showing signs of rebound from complete collapse in the early 1990s.

In April 2015, the provincial government was presented with a Cod Market Report by John Sackton, president of seafood.com, who’s recognized as one of the top seafood market analysts and researchers in the world.

That report revealed that 2014 cod landings in Newfoundland and Labrador amounted to just over 11,000 tonnes — less than .005 per cent of total Atlantic cod that year, which totalled 1.3 million tonnes. Further, China processes 50 per cent of all global headed and gutted cod, about 850,000 tonnes.

We are but a speck in the cod-fishing universe.

Newfoundland and Labrador produces a higher quality codfish product than China, but the Chinese product — which is twice frozen and chemically processed — is much cheaper.

The Sackton report advised the province that maintaining stability of cod pricing to allow the build up of more niche markets would protect the long-term value of cod for both fishermen and processors.

“The brutal fact is that if Newfoundland cannot produce and sell a high value niche cod product, it will be very hard to avoid being sucked into the commodity market dominated by China,” stated the report’s summary.

“At that point, the ability to maintain a processing infrastructure for cod becomes threatened, because the double frozen Chinese product will undercut shore plants, making frozen at sea the more viable product.”

Enter Royal Greenland, a firm wholly owned by the government of Greenland.

It was revealed in December that the foreign company has reached an agreement to purchase majority shares in Quin-Sea Fisheries Ltd., one of the province’s largest seafood companies, operating a half dozen plants.

Quin-Sea is also said to have trust agreements with a fleet of local longliners, which could essentially hand control of fish quotas to Royal Greenland.

The deal is being considered by the province’s Fish Processing Licensing Board, with ultimate approval resting with the new Liberal government.

In terms of cod alone, would Royal Greenland be committed to the challenge of making the fishery work for our fishermen and plants, or would profit rule?

Long live the codfish king.

Ryan Cleary

St. John’s