Feds must come to the ta­ble

The Compass - - OPINION -

The 2010 in­shore fish­ing sea­son may hinge on a suc­cess­ful lob­ster fish­ery and lit­tle else. But at a re­ported $3 a pound for har­vesters ($6 for con­sumers), it will not prove that lu­cra­tive.

How­ever the big break that may come here, if there is one, is the vol­cano erup­tion in Ice­land this month, which spewed vol­canic ash through­out Euro­pean air flight lanes, pre­vent­ing live lob­ster from be­ing shipped from Nova Sco­tia to those over­seas mar­kets.

The seal­ing in­dus­try has floun­dered this year with about 60,000 pelts to be mar­keted this sea­son (thought to be end­ing on the week­end), when the quota had been set at ap­prox­i­mately 330,000 seals. As the sea­son started, the rumour was a re­turn of $14 a pelt but har­vesters did man­age ap­prox­i­mately $25. A far cry from the over $100 a pelt the mar­ket fetched a few years ago.

The crab fish­ery sea­son has been teth­er­ing on the fence for sev­eral months now, and Thurs­day it top­pled off. While the fish har­vesters claim they need $1.50 a pound to make the fish­ery profitable for them, the pro­vin­cial price set­ting panel iden­ti­fied a price of $1.35.

How­ever, the Seafood Pro­ces­sors had dis­puted those prices from day one and Thurs­day said they would only pay a $1.19, and based on an Alaskan crab fish­ery de­ferred pay­ment sys­tem would only pay $1.09 at the wharf.

The Fish­er­men, Food and Al­lied Work­ers Union want the pro­vin­cial govern­ment to pump mil­lions of dol­lars into the fish­ery to al­low for the sea­son to go ahead. Fish­eries Min­is­ter Clyde Jack­man’s re­ac­tion was no way, be­cause the in­dus­try would face re­tal­i­a­tion ( fines) un­der the free trade agree­ment with the U.S. – the ma­jor mar­ket for lo­cal fish prod­ucts.

But the free trade agree­ment didn’t both Danny Wil­liams when it came to fight­ing AbitibiBowa­ter and the govern­ment’s ex­pro­pri­a­tion of the Grand Falls mill and prop­erty rights. That com­pany now has its own ac­tion against the prov­ince be­fore an in­ter­na­tional ar­bi­tra­tion panel.

Per­haps, the real rea­son for the re­fusal is Min­is­ter Jack­man knows pump­ing money into the fish­ery will be never end­ing, set­ting up a Bill Mur­ray’s movie ‘Ground­hog Dog’ sce­nario for years to come.

He has also stated he be­lieves the prob­lems in the in­dus­try must be ad­dressed through the MOU Com­mit­tee govern­ment es­tab­lished among stake­hold­ers last year.

At the same time, the FFAW has de­clared it plans a strike vote among its mem­ber­ship at half a dozen Ocean Choice In­ter­na­tional ground fish plants in the prov­ince, af­ter con­tract talks stale­mated last week.

The fear is OCI’s days, as op­er­a­tor of these plants in­clud­ing Marys­town, are num­bered. Its five-year deal with the pro­vin­cial govern­ment in 2007 to as­sume the own­er­ship of these plants when FPI dis­solved is rapidly ap­proach­ing.

So what do you do with the fish­ing in­dus­try and its thou­sands of peo­ple who de­pend on it?

The fish­ery has en­tailed an un­end­ing cy­cle of boom and bust sce­nar­ios and now we’re in the midst of a bust.

The one voice not heard in this fi­asco is the fed­eral govern­ment’s. Wasn’t Ot­tawa sup­posed to be the man­agers of this in­dus­try af­ter New­found­land’s en­try into Con­fed­er­a­tion in 1949?

Al­though the feds have shown their in­abil­ity to man­age this in­dus­try time and again, they still hold con­trol. It’s a main rea­son this in­dus­try has flip-flopped back and forth dur­ing the last three decades.

Ot­tawa has to step up to the plate and show a sem­blance of the lead­er­ship it’s sup­posed to have in this in­dus­try. Min­is­ter Gail Shea, and her boss P.M. Stephen Harper, need to in­volve the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans for the thou­sands of de­pen­dents and put long term plan­ning in place for an in­dus­try that has bounced around from one cri­sis to an­other far too long.

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