Feds must come to the table
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.