A ques­tion of qual­ity

Har­vesters worry their ef­forts in pro­duc­ing a qual­ity catch will be lost due to de­lays in grad­ing

The Central Voice - - Front Page - BY KYLE GREENHAM

With hefty nets, healthy liv­ers and plump fish, har­vesters across the cen­tral re­gion are see­ing signs of a healthy and re­bound­ing cod fish­ery this sum­mer.

But fish­ers and union rep­re­sen­ta­tives agree, the most piv­otal mark to grow this fu­ture fish­ery is not in quan­tity but in pro­duc­ing a qual­ity grade cod­fish.

“The only thing that’s go­ing to do it for us is qual­ity,” Sal­vage har­vester Gor­don Janes said. “Nor­way and Ice­land got it down to a sci­ence, and the fish we put out in com­par­i­son to them is very lit­tle.

“So if we don’t look af­ter qual­ity, we’re not go­ing to be a player at all.”

In re­cent years, har­vesters have been en­cour­aged in a va­ri­ety of tech­niques for pro­duc­ing a fresher and high­erqual­ity fish. These tech­niques in­clude an em­pha­sis on more fish caught through hook and line, de­creas­ing the amount of time har­vesters leave out gill­nets, pulling out the fish’s gills to drain the blood from its fil­lets, and gut­ting the fish and putting it in ice im­me­di­ately af­ter it’s caught.

While cod har­vesters are now un­der­tak­ing these steps across the board, many are up­set that the grad­ing for their fish does not hap­pen when they bring their catch into the dock. In­stead, the fish is graded for qual­ity af­ter it is shipped to a pro­cess­ing plant and graded just be­fore it is pro­cessed.

Un­der­tak­ing the steps to pro­duce qual­ity fish, Dave Boyd of Twill­ingate says he has still on oc­ca­sion re­ceived poor grades on his sin­gle quota. He says it’s a com­mon grievance around Twill­ingate and New World Is­land, and he wor­ries that the de­lays in ship­ping and pro­cess­ing may be a lead­ing fac­tor in these poor grades.

“It’s dis­cour­ag­ing if you’re try­ing your best and you’re not get­ting paid for it,” Boyd said. “Ev­ery­body’s got the hor­ror sto­ries about grad­ing, fel­lows get­ting 40 per cent grade A and 40 per cent grade C. And when you’re tak­ing it of the nets alive, pulling their gills, putting it in ice — I don’t know how you can do it much bet­ter than that.

“It should be graded on the deck when the fish is brought in.”

Fish­er­man Rod­ney Froude of Ket­tle Cove agrees with Boyd that grad­ing the fish on the dock would be highly ben­e­fi­cial for har­vesters. He says he and many other har­vesters are of­ten sur­prised when lower grades are re­ceived.

With the de­lays be­tween ship­ping off their catch and get­ting their grade — which is around 48 hours — Froude says har­vesters don’t feel they have much of an op­tion to dis­pute the re­sults.

“You can han­dle your fish the same way ev­ery day, but one day you’ll get a good price and the next day you can get the low­est price,” Froude said. “It would be bet­ter if it was graded right at the wharf. If they can come to your face and say it’s a poor grade be­cause it’s bruised, well you can deal with it then.”

Fish, Food, and Al­lied Work­ers (FFAW) Union-rep Roland Hed­der­son says this is­sue came out dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions that re­sulted in this year’s Stand­ing Fish Price-Set­ting Panel re­port. The re­port set pric­ing for cod based on qual­ity grades and en­cour­aged bet­ter prices for har­vesters.

“We sat down with the buy­ers dur­ing those ne­go­ti­a­tions, and they felt that what goes through the plant is what ul­ti­mately counts, not what’s brought into the wharf,” Hed­der­son said. “Whereas the fish­er­men like to dif­fer on that. They feel that they brought it into the wharf in a good con­di­tion, so it shouldn’t be their prob­lem af­ter that.”

Hed­der­son stresses that the qual­ity of fish in the prov­ince has es­ca­lated com­pared to what was caught in the 1950’s to 1980’s. But par­tic­u­larly this year, Hed­der­son says that the qual­ity grade of fish ap­pears to be a bit down for some har­vesters.

He says the abun­dance of fish and the hot weather this year are likely play­ing a role.

“Com­pared with what was brought up in the mora­to­rium, it’s not the same fish at all,” Hed­der­son said. “The qual­ity of the fish brought into New­found­land and Labrador has in­creased tremen­dously. It’s been a bit lower so far this year, it seems hook and line is not so vi­able with the fish glut­ted with capelin, so there’s more re­liance on gill­nets.

“And when you can set out a cou­ple of nets and get sev­eral thou­sand pounds out of it, you al­most got to be a su­per­man to be able to clean and gut all that fish and get it into a tub of ice in a short pe­riod of time.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hed­der­son, so long as the fish is kept in ice, it can stand up in qual­ity de­spite the long dis­tances and hours it can take to get it graded and pro­cessed.

“Part of the fishes grad­ing is tex­ture, which is the soft­ness of the fish. That seems to have been a prob­lem the past few weeks with the hot weather,” he said. “If the tem­per­a­ture goes up, the fish is prone to soft­ness and other is­sues, but so long as that chain of tem­per­a­ture doesn’t get bro­ken, the qual­ity can stand. We have fish be­ing shipped in from as far as the North­ern Penin­sula still get­ting top qual­ity.”

Win­ston Dear­ing of More­ton’s Har­bour has re­ceived The grad­ing of the cod­fish’s qual­ity, which de­ter­mines how much har­vesters will get for their catch, is done af­ter the fish is brought to a dock, shipped to a plant and pre­pared for pro­cess­ing.

good grades on his fish through­out this sum­mer, re­ceiv­ing an av­er­age of 81 cents, just two cents be­low the top qual­ity. Still, he agrees with other har­vesters sen­ti­ments that it would be much fairer to the fish­er­men if the grad­ing was not de­layed un­til pro­cess­ing.

“For the most part I’ve been pleased, but I’d sooner see it graded on the wharf just the same,” Dear­ing said. “I’ve been hear­ing lots of sto­ries out of Twill­ingate of peo­ple get­ting bad grades. Any­thing you sell, you ought to know right away what you’re go­ing to get for it.”

Hed­der­son wishes the re­sources were there to do grad­ing on the dock, but he says it is not vi­able un­der cur­rent cir­cum­stances.

“I sym­pa­thize with peo­ple who want to get it graded on the wharf, but the cost is just pro­hib­i­tive and with a lack of man­power, it all adds up. It’s go­ing to be more than the fish is worth,” he said.

While over­all the qual­ity and role of cod in New­found­land and Labrador’s fish­ery is ris­ing, Boyd be­lieves it may be dis­cour­ag­ing for the fu­ture if har­vesters feel there is a risk that their ef­forts pro­duc­ing qual­ity fish will not trans­late on their pay che­ques.

“There’s more fish caught in peo­ple’s nets than ever seen be­fore, and the fish was never any thicker,” said Boyd. “But it doesn’t make much sense to put all your ef­fort into it if you can’t get a bet­ter price.”

KYLE GREENHAM – THE CEN­TRAL VOICE

Dave Boyd of Twill­ingate says de­spite the con­tin­ual ef­forts by har­vesters to en­sure they’re bring­ing in a qual­ity cod catch, many fish­ers are still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing poor grad­ing and prices on their fish The Cen­tral Voice spoke with Boyd and sev­eral other har­vesters who feel their catch’s qual­ity should be graded when brought into the wharf, in­stead of graded be­fore it is pro­cessed at a plant

KYLE GREENHAM – THE CEN­TRAL VOICE

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