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‘On pins and needles’
Inshore harvesters in Newfoundland who are normally anxious to start fishing crab and lobster this time of year have a different reason to be nervous as the 2020 opening of the two fisheries approaches.
COVID-19, also commonly referred to as the coronavirus, is having a significant economic impact on China, a country whose importance continues to grow as a destination for seafood from this province.
“Everybody’s on pins and needles,” Garnish-based harvester Alfred Fitzpatrick told SaltWire Network recently.
The crab season along the province’s south coast usually opens up in early April, followed a couple weeks later by lobster.
That’s not far off, and with talk in recent days of COVID-19 potentially becoming a pandemic, it looks as if the economic consequences will continue, as well.
“Oh, my God, yes,” Fitzpatrick responded when asked if the COVID-19 crisis was inspiring conversation on the province’s wharves.
“Like I said, everybody is worried. With the cost of everything going up and the new requirements and everything everybody got to do, I mean, it’s all money, and if you don’t make it, you can’t spend it, hey,” he said.
Hard to predict
SaltWire Network reached out to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers-Unifor (FFAW-Unifor) union, which represents both fishermen and plant workers in the province. The union suggested speaking with the Lobster Council of Canada of which it is a member.
Lobster Council of Canada executive director Geoff Irvine said the crisis was definitely having a negative impact on sales already in the live lobster industry in Nova Scotia.
Projecting what might happen moving into this spring in Newfoundland, however, is more difficult, he said.
"Everybody's on pins and needles." - harvester Alfred Fitzpatrick
“Everybody is worried about it, and the worst I guess is the unknown, not knowing what’s going to happen,” he said.
“I guess, we’re just telling everybody to stay calm and to hope that the Chinese will get it in order.”
According to the provincial government’s seafood industry year-in-review for 2018, from January to November of that year, Newfoundland and Labrador exported $860 million in seafood products to over 40 countries around the world.
After the United States — at a smidge under half of the total exported value that year, China was the second largest market for Newfoundland and Labrador seafood at 23.9 per cent, indicates Statistics Canada data included in the review.
Of that amount, shrimp and snow crab made up a third each, while other shellfish represented 16 per cent and groundfish another nine per cent.
In a statement to SaltWire Network, Ocean Choice International (OCI) said the company is “watching the coronavirus outbreak in China very closely.”
OCI has five fish plants in Newfoundland and another in Nova Scotia. It also has a fleet of five ships with another about to be launched.
“We have employees, customers and suppliers in China and that is where our concerns lie. We are in daily contact with our employees to ensure we are doing all we can to support them,” the statement reads.
According to the company’s website, OCI has sales offices in North America, Europe and Asia, selling over 100 million pounds of product —including snow crab, lobster, cold-water shrimp, scallops, Atlantic cod, flounder and sole, redfish, Greenland halibut, mackerel and capelin — to over 30 countries annually.
Its diversified base of customers diminishes the company’s reliance on one particular country or customer, OCI acknowledged.
“This helps protect the company from these types of global situations that can see disruptions in demand,” the statement noted.
The entire global seafood industry is experiencing the effects of COVID-19, according to the company.
“To date we have seen impacts to the restaurant and catering sector in China, which is an important part of our business in the China market, while demand in other sectors such as the retail and food delivery sectors have seen increases.
“As we continue to assess the impact of these shifts in demand to our business, our thoughts remain with the people of China. We are continuing to work with our customers and suppliers during this most difficult time.”
NL’s seafood processing, sales and marketing companies
The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources’ 2019 Seafood Products Directory identifies 31 seafood processors in Newfoundland and Labrador. Another four seafood sales/marketing companies are listed.
According to the directory, the information was provided to the department by the seafood companies themselves.
The vast majority of the companies in the directory identify the Asia-Pacific market as among those where they export product.
Seafood processors – 3T’s Ltd., Allen’s Fisheries Ltd., Aqua Crab Producers Ltd., Badger Bay Mussel Farms Ltd., Barry Group Inc., Bay Roberts Seafoods Ltd., Beothic Fish Processors Ltd., Carino Processing Ltd., Clearwater Seafoods L.P., Cooke Aquaculture Inc., Eastern Fish Markets Ltd., Fogo Island Co-operative Society Ltd., Golden Shell Fisheries (2014) Ltd., Green Seafoods Ltd., Happy Adventure Sea Products (1991) Ltd., Harbour Grace Shrimp Company Ltd., Hodder’s Shellfish Inc., Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company Inc., Labrador Gem Seafood Inc., MOWI Canada East, Newfound Resources Ltd., Northern Lights Seafood Inc., Ocean Choice International L.P., PhocaLux International Inc., Quinlan Brothers Ltd., Quin-Sea Fisheries Ltd., St. Anthony Seafoods L.P., Terra Vista Ltd., Torngat Fish Producers Co-operative Society Ltd., and Wood-Pick Enterprises Ltd.
Seafood sales/marketing companies – San-Can Fisheries Ltd., TFC Seafood Brokerage, TV Fish Inc., and Whitecap International Seafood Exporters.