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No plan to let outside fish buyers into Newfoundland and Labrador market: Byrne

Byrne - Star file photo

Minister of fisheries doubts most inshore harvesters would support changing system

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) renewed its call last week for the provincial government to open the door to outside buyers.

But Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources Gerry Byrne said Monday that the province’s response to that is the same as its been for some time — it has no intention of modifying the policy that is in place.

Newfoundland harvesters must sell their catches to processors and buyers in the province. FISH-NL argues that local processors and buyers have been underpaying inshore harvesters for years and they can get more money for their catches outside the province.

Byrne disagrees.

“There is not an apples to apples comparison.”

He said assertions that fish goes for significantly higher prices on the Mainland, particularly in Quebec are driven in part by rumour and by positioning for the collective fish price bargaining process.

The province has a legislated relationship between harvesters and processors on fish price setting and in the past conflicts, strikes and lockouts, led to significant economic jeopardy to communities, the industry, harvesters and processing operations.

While it’s been debated for a while, Byrne said, “the facts don’t ever seem to change.”

He said it’s not simply the act of selling fish in Newfoundland and Labrador, versus selling fish in Nova Scotia or Quebec.

“There is not an apples to apples comparison.” — Gerry Byrne, minister of fisheries and land resources

In this province, processors are required to deduct workers’ compensation and employment insurance premiums from the amount they pay to harvesters.

“Mainland companies don’t do that.”

Byrne said that is something FISH-NL doesn’t seem to be concerned with, but it’s not factored in when there is word of inflated prices coming out of Quebec or Nova Scotia.

He said the province has had pilot programs where it let outside buyers come in for specific species with the expectation they would abide by the same rules as the province’s processing companies.

“Because otherwise, you’d basically put outside buyers at a competitive advantage over domestic buyers.”

He also said the province has hired analysts to investigate wharf prices and the price differentials described never mesh with reality.

Byrne said the province’s system is to the benefit of the harvester and he doubts most inshore fishermen would agree with changing it.

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