Neither pessimism nor crap
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.”