Seafood processors in the province are ready to turn the page on a difficult 2020, and will be happy to see the end of it, according to the industry’s trade association CEO, Derek Butler, of the Association of Seafood Producers.
Butler says 2020 will soon be one for the history books, and for that, he’s happy.
”This is a tough industry on a good day, it always has its challenges and turmoil, but 2020 ranks up there as a real doozy,” says Butler.
“If you had told industry participants last fall that 1/2 our markets would disappear, that restaurants would be essentially closed, food service gone, well, we would have had a long cold winter trying to figure out how to adapt to that reality. In contrast, we had about 8 weeks notice.”
Butler says the impacts of the year are widespread, in terms of costs of PPE and changes made to plants to keep workers safe, quota left in the water because of depressed markets, and reduced market returns, but the industry is still standing.
“We had no game plan for a pandemic market, and we have no playbook for a post-pandemic market, even whether 2021 will be a post-pandemic market,” says Butler. “It varies by species, but at the end of the day we had lower market returns overall, and there are still some selling challenges.”
But Butler says the year has had positive aspects, and for that industry participants are to be recognized.
“It shows,” he said, “that the industry is more adaptive and resilient than some might have imagined, given the challenges that we were confronted with, including lower market returns.”
“In short order, we secured the necessary PPE, made substantial modifications to our plants, secured market access for retail, and came through. We never had a case of Covid in our facilities, and all the industry participants are to be congratulated for that,” says Butler.
Butler says it reflects admirably on the industry, after a rough start.
“We saw protests, road blockages, things got pretty rough, in what is already a tough business. But we came through, most people rose to the challenge, in our plants, harvesters, off-loaders, graders, truckers, the list is quite long. The industry was able to operate, when so many others could not,” he said.
Butler says the support of both levels of government was also crucial. “We had a strong advocate in former Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne, we had strong support from the federal government, for securing the supply chain, and supports for all the additional costs that were placed on industry, for the losses in income to both harvesters and plants from reduced sales and the higher costs of operations,” says Butler.
Butler says if there was ever a year to gather and give thanks in the Christmas season, this might be it, but ongoing restrictions around Covid-19 mean those occasions will have to wait.