Re­port rec­om­mends gut­ting fish­ery

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMESMCLEOD

A sweep­ing, in­de­pen­dent re­port on the prov­ince’s fish­ery is call­ing for dras­tic down­siz­ing, do­ing away with more than half of all fish­ing en­ter­prises and 30 per cent of all pro­cess­ing plants.

An hour af­ter the re­port was re­leased by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment last Fri­day, Feb. 25, Fish­eries Min­is­ter Clyde Jack­man re­jected the rec­om­men­da­tions and said the gov­ern­ment wouldn’t act on them.

Jack­man said that when the prov­ince signed a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing ( MOU) in July 2009 with fish har­vesters and pro­ces­sors, the gov­ern­ment was look­ing for ways to re­struc­ture the fish­ery, not just down­size it.

“ I don’t see any­thing in this that would lead us to a ba­sic re­struc­tur­ing of this in­dus­try,” Jack­man said. “ It seems to be tak­ing the prob­lem, hop- ing to down­size it a lit­tle, and you’re still left with the prob­lem.”

When the MOU was signed, the prov­ince, Fish Food and Al­lied Work­ers ( FFAW) and the As­so­ci­a­tion of Seafood Pro­duc­ers agreed to un­dergo de­tailed, in­de­pen­dent au­dits of the har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing sec­tors of the fish­ery.

Work­ing groups were struck to look at how to re­struc­ture those two sec­tors, and a third group was put to­gether to ex­am­ine mar­ket­ing of New­found­land fish prod­ucts.

The fi­nal re­port was com­piled from those work­ing groups by MUN busi­ness pro­fes­sor Tom Clift, who chaired the MOU steer­ing com­mit­tee.

Clift con­cluded that no mean­ing­ful re­struc­tur­ing could take place un­til dras­tic ra­tio­nal­iza­tion took place.

“ The group needs to go through ra­tio­nal­iza­tion be­fore they can con­tem­plate a more thor­ough re­struc­tur­ing,” Clift said.

The re­port calls for more than 50 per cent re­duc­tion in the num­ber of in­shore fish­ing en­ter­prises. On the west coast, north­east coast and in Labrador, har­vesters need to be re­duced by more than 70 per cent to be eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.

When it comes to near shore ves­sels, less ra­tio­nal­iza­tion is needed, but de­pend­ing on the area o f the prov­ince, up to 50 per cent of the fleet needs to be taken off the wa­ter for the rest to be eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.

On the pro­cess­ing side 30 per cent of crab and shrimp plants need to be closed.

The re­port also iden­ti­fied mar­ket­ing as a key way to bol­ster the in­dus­try, and calls for es­tab­lish­ing a seafood con­sor­tium within the fish­ing in­dus­try.

Jack­man said in to­tal, the in­dus­try is ask­ing for more than $450 mil­lion for li­cence buy­outs and other costs of ra­tio­nal­iza­tion.

He said he wants a way to bring more young peo­ple into the fish­ery, and he won’t con­sider down­siz­ing un­til he’s pre­sented with good ideas on how to re­struc­ture.

Use­less doc­u­ment

Lib­eral and NDP politi­cians wasted no time blast­ing the gov­ern­ment.

“ It’s an­other use­less doc­u­ment un­less the gov­ern­ment in­tends to move some­thing for­ward and do some­thing with it,” said Lib­eral fish­eries critic Mar­shall Dean.

“I’m not, at this point, will­ing to say I would sup­port the rec­om­men­da­tions of the MOU.

“ But we can’t con­tinue to turn a blind eye to the fish­ery and just let it die on the vine, so to speak.”

NDP Leader Lor­raine Michael agreed that re­gard­less of the rec­om­men­da­tions the gov­ern­ment needs to be more in­volved in the fish­ery.

“ This gov­ern­ment has a re­spon­si­bil­ity – whether it’s ra­tio­nal­iza­tion or re­struc­tur­ing – this gov­ern­ment has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to be at the ta­ble at all times,” she said.

But with the gov­ern­ment re­ject­ing the con­clu­sions of the re­port, it is un­clear what will hap­pen next.

Jack­man said he will sit back and let pub­lic de­bate un­fold be­fore they de­cide how to move for­ward.

He was asked whether it’s time for the gov­ern­ment to get out of the fish­ery, and let mar­ket forces take their course.

“ Is it time that we have that dis­cus­sion? I think it is,” he said. “Maybe it’s time for us to get on with that larger dis­cus­sion. Is this a busi­ness or is it some­thing that gov­ern­ment should be fully in the mid­dle of on an on­go­ing ba­sis?”

The re­port de­tails fall­ing em­ploy­ment and aging har­vesters and plant work­ers. Jack­man said that maybe de­mo­graph­ics will take care of the in­dus­try’s woes.

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