Report recommends gutting fishery
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.
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.