Hopeful for a better year on the ocean
Report outlines positive 2010 fishery results
St. Anthony — The provincial government is cautiously optimistic that this year’s fishing season can build on 2010.
Having bucked recessionary pressures and skirted around April’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill that left domestic and international consumers apprehensive about the seafood supply from the United States, Newfoundland and Labrador production value bounced back from a bleak 2009.
In its annual year in review released last week, the report showed production value hit $942 million despite total seafood production declining 5.9 per cent from 177,864 tons in 2009 to 167,302 tons in 2010.
The province exported about 181,036 tons of seafood to other countries in 2010, valued at more than $780 million.
The saviour of the industry was touted as the strengthening shrimp and snow crab prices, the former hitting a 10-year high.
The shellfish sector comprised 59.6 per cent of total landings and generated 84 per cent of the total landed value for all capture fisheries (see table).
It is far from the halcyon days of 2004 when total production market value topped $ 1.2 billion but the 13.9 per cent growth rate over 2009, when the total production value was $827 million, was welcomed.
Fisheries minister Clyde Jackman however said it was now a waiting game to see what happens with the disaster-ravaged Japan.
Considering so much emphasis in the report focused on Japan’s role in bolstering the snow crab market, Mr. Jackman is rightly nervous.
“ Japan accounts for 40 per cent of our [snow crab] product so there is going to be an impact on our industry, that’s without a doubt, but just how much we don’t know,” he told the Pen.
Seafood.com and leading market analyst John Saxton said a cautious wait and see approach was needed.
“ We need to wait and give it time to develop because so much of the market and buying process involves buyer psychology and that can change much more rapidly than underlying conditions and demands,” he said.
“Early signs are that buyer psychology is definitely being affected.
“ They don’t know what is going to happen and are less free about where they’re going to spend their money.
“It could be in a couple of weeks and the buyer psychology improves and by the time crab season opens things are better but we just don’t know and that’s why it’s volatile.”
Total landings in the province’s fishing industry totalled 301,397 tons with a decline in pelagic offset by increased shellfish catches. Decline in workers, harvesters Natural attrition of an aging workforce, Mr. Jackman said, is behind the total 5.3 per cent decline in the fisheries sector from 22,333 employees to 21,142 the bulk of whom came from the fish harvesting sector.
The seven per cent drop from 11,619 to 10,802 was coupled with a 3.5 per cent fall in fish processing workers from 10,714 to 10,340.
“ Walk onto a wharf or into a processing plant and you’ll see for yourself what’s happening,” Mr. Jackman said.
“It’s an aging workforce and one that is leaving the industry and not being replaced by young people.”
Workforce concerns is one of the issues Mr. Jackman hopes the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union and Association of Seafood Producers will address in quick time.
Denying the MOU report had run aground and turned into an adversarial staring contest, Mr. Jackman was hopeful a letter he plans to send to both groups would stir them into action.
The process has settled into a stalemate after Mr. Jackman refused to endorse the report saying it lacked structural changes, while the ASP and FFAW declared they had done what they had been asked and developed rationalization plans.
“ I definitely think there are structural changes that can be made but I don’t think it will blanket changes to everyone,” he said.
Mr. Jackman said the public debate over the MOU, which he told the Pen on March 7 needed to take place, had revealed that many still had not taken the time to read the document.
The good news is aquaculture employment increased 4.4 per cent from 655 to 684 — in fact the aquaculture sector is one of the shining lights in the review.
Aquaculture production rose 12.7 per cent from 13,627 tons in 2009 to 15,360 tons in 2010 with the total market value increasing 26.1 per cent up to $116 million last year.