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.

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