Nei­ther pes­simism nor crap

The Compass - - OPINION -

There are many glum faces on the wharves of this prov­ince as we crawl to­ward mid­sum­mer’s day. It’s not be­cause of weather. Spring came early, the ice was not too bad, and both tem­per­a­tures and hours of sun­light were above those seen the last few months of May. Caplin weather came at the tra­di­tional time in early June, not the mid-July pe­riod that has be­come the custom in re­cent years.

The catches of lob­ster and crab are good.The abun­dance of shrimp and good sign of cod­fish are all rea­sons for op­ti­mism. So, why the long faces? Prices. The dis­pute over shrimp prices at the time I write this has yet to be re­solved. Though it went to ar­bi­tra­tion and a price was set, fish buy­ers were not pre­pared to ac­cept it. So, the shrimp fleet has been tied up for valu­able weeks await­ing a res­o­lu­tion. Plant floors are empty and work­ers are scan­ning the job mar­ket for al­ter­na­tives. This at a mo­ment when the Al­berta job drought ap­pears to be eas­ing, but is un­likely to re­turn to the reck­less bonanza of years gone by.

The low price of both lob­ster and crab was the source of much de­bate at the beginning of the sea­son. At one point fish­ers met in Eastport to de­cide if they would im­pose on them­selves an over­all boy­cott on sell­ing lob­sters at the $3.50/pound price that buy­ers ar­rived at, ap­par­ently by co­in­ci­dence. Fish­ers agreed to let in­di­vid­u­als de­cide. Most every­one is fish­ing, but there is not much money be­ing made.

When the cod fish­ery starts in 2J 3KL where I live, the price for hook and line and trawl fish will be down eight cents a pound to 57 from last year’s 65, a drop of 12 per cent.

Not a king or queen’s ran­som. What is a king or queen’s ran­som is the price be­ing charged in re­tail fish mar­kets in Europe for all species of fish.

On a re­cent trip to France, Lisa and I went food shop­ping in the mar­ket at Les Halles in Avi­gnon. It is a col­lec­tion of stalls run by in­di­vid­ual mer­chants in a build­ing that con­tains a multi-level park­ing garage. It is a crowded and colour­ful shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence, with lively ex­changes be­tween buy­ers and sell­ers. If you are in­ter­ested in buy­ing a cheese for ex­am­ple, the seller will cut off a tiny piece and let you taste be­fore buy­ing. The same thing with olives and fruit. This is the way French peo­ple buy their food. How it is pre­sented and how it tastes is very im­por­tant in that coun­try. And cus­tomers are pre­pared to pay for qual­ity.

In the course of our stroll through Les Halles, we came to the fish counter. I im­me­di­ately took out my cam­era and be­gan click­ing. I wasn’t con­cen­trat­ing on pho­tograph­ing the fish, but the price tags.

As I write this I have in front of me pho­tos of salt cod fil­lets sell­ing for 27.9 eu­ros per kilo ($14.18/lb.) and a crea­ture called a Ci­gale, which looks (and tastes) a lot like our lob­ster, only without the legs and claws, sport­ing a price tag of 60 eu­ros a kilo ($43.63/lb.)

I grant you that get­ting our cod­fish and lob­ster to France re­quires more red tape and a larger ship­ping cost than to the U.S.A where the bulk of our seafood winds up. That said, there is a huge dif­fer­ence in the price our fish­ers get and what Euro­pean con­sumers are pay­ing. If we were sell­ing into Europe, maybe fish­ers in this prov­ince would not need to be work­ing for star­va­tion wages.

Maybe it’s time to put some top notch ne­go­ti­at­ing tal­ent to work carv­ing out mar­kets in a place where our seafood is re­garded as the del­i­cacy it is, rather than low-end fod­der for the fast-food in­dus­try state­side.

Speak­ing of top notch ne­go­ti­at­ing tal­ent, con­grat­u­la­tions to Premier Wil­liams for the mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing signed for de­vel­op­ment of Hiber­nia South. Also for the speedy re­tire­ment of the debt for the first Hiber­nia. Bravo. Good news for our prov­ince.

It is par­tic­u­larly re­gret­table that th­ese two im­por­tant an­nounce­ments took place on the very day when the al­ready low price paid fish­ers for lob­ster dropped a fur­ther 50 cents to $3/lb. at our fish plant in Sal­vage. Bad news! When good and bad news are de­liv­ered si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the con­trast is strik­ing.The con­trast struck Randy Simms when he chose last week’s Open Line phone-in topic: Was pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with oil, blind­ing us to the need to make our fish­ery work?

Yes, the premier is a tal­ented ne­go­tia­tor, but not the most tem­per­ate voice in the prov­ince. He phoned Randy and reamed him roy­ally: “..a lot of won­der­ful things hap­pen­ing in New­found­land and Labrador and we don’t need that kind of pes­simism and crap com­ing out of your mouth in the morn­ings, I can tell you right now.”

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