(St. John’s, NL) The Association of Seafood Producers (ASP), representing the majority of seafood production in the province, is echoing concerns first raised by the FFAW, representing the province’s inshore harvesters, regarding oil exploration and the fishery, but rejects categorically the FFAW’s characterization of cartel-like behavior for the fishery in 2019.
ASP Executive Director Derek Butler says the oil industry is of incredible value to the province, and has contributed immensely to provincial coffers and incomes, but there needs to be vigilance on the part of the two industries, fisheries and oil, in relation to activities that could compromise either sector.
“We appreciate the oil and gas sector, and we think there is room for both of us obviously, but there is no doubt the fishery is the smaller player and we need to ensure, as oil and gas continues to expand, that the fishery is not compromised,” said Butler.
The FFAW has raised concerns in the past about oil and gas pushing harvesters out of lucrative fishing grounds. Butler says if that is the case, it needs to be better managed, and the two industries need to ensure the channels of communication remain open so issues are dealt with.
“We have mechanisms in place, we obviously all know each other, we sit on the One Ocean board together, so when we have issues, we have to discuss them,” said Butler.
But on one score, Butler says the FFAW is wrong to accuse producers of engaging in cartel-like behavior in 2019 when cod buying was delayed by the capelin fishery, or in delays related to squid.
Squid, Butler says, was unique in that the fishery was expected to be much bigger than usual, and led to protracted negotiations and reconsideration attempts to ensure the specifications to ensure quality were in place.
But on capelin vs cod, he says the FFAW story does not add up.
“The FFAW just said we came off a year with the highest prices ever, and I know from the discussions I was part of, including with processors, harvester and the regulators, that the capelin fishery was one of the best organized, the best planned, the best structured in recent years,” says Butler.
Butler says that was achieved through daily conference calls – chaired by the FFAW – with input from all stakeholders. As a result of the better coordination and planning the fishery was less rushed, which lead to a delay of a week in cod buying, a 3 or 4 day delay more than the FFAW was prepared to accept.
“That does not mean, as the FFAW suggested, that we need more fish processing licenses in the province, which would mean less work for plant workers, fewer hours, and really spreading the work around,” says Butler. “That is not how we build a stronger industry in 2020.”
Season start dates are set by federal Fisheries and Oceans in consultation with industry, but mostly with the FFAW. Butler says the solution for 2020 might include more consultations with both the FFAW and ASP about when fisheries start, to ensure both sectors of the industry are ready.
“Harvesters decide when they fish,” says Butler, “and that makes sense, and then producers have to have the operational capacity to handle the fishery in question. It’s a two-way street, but we’ll have a better 2020 if we can agree jointly on season start dates, to the extent possible.”