The Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) says shrimp producers in the province face some difficult decisions in response to prices set for shrimp in recent arbitration sessions, and it is not clear what might actually transpire at this point.
Derek Butler, head of ASP, says shrimp was in trouble with high global inventories and falling markets before Covid-19, which added to the market challenges. He says prices set in arbitration are simply not economical, and producers risk undermining their entire operations if they run at such high losses.
“It is a very difficult decision, and we knew that going into it, that is why the parties postponed negotiations from April to the end of June, it’s why we gave up on a spring and early summer fishery. We talked about whether it is better to leave the shrimp in the water this year, but we recognize that has serious implications as well. So all around, it is not a good situation,” says Butler.
Butler says part of the challenge is that similar fisheries in the Gulf nearer New Brunswick and Quebec started the year under a dollar per pound, with less additional costs on top of that, while Nova Scotia’s cold water shrimp fishery just ended with prices reported around $0.75. “That’s a long way from the price set here, at $1.08,” said Butler.
“Shrimp produces are exploring every possible avenue to ensure a fishery,” says Butler.
But Butler says the FFAW is wrong to say producers have short-changed the industry with the postponed start-up. And he added they are wrong to say OCI, one of its members, operates a plant in NB.
“ASP and the FFAW postponed negotiations, and we agreed on a start-up in July. So we have not delayed the start unduly,” says Butler.
“But we also agreed that if the price was not economical for plants, assuming the FFAW price position prevailed, or not economical for harvesters, if ASP’s positions prevailed, then it might mean the shrimp was left in the water,” says Butler. “That was repeated over and over, even though I think we both had good intentions, certainly ASP did, to set the right prices and to get a fishery. Sadly, to date, we have not gotten there.”
As to whether producers are violating collective bargaining, Butler says they clearly are not.
“When this legislation was amended in this regard, the Minister of the day clearly said an operator did not have to run their business at a loss. That includes harvesters and that includes plants. When it is not economical to run, people will certainly take the time necessary to consider what it means for the business this year and in future years” says Butler. “Right now these numbers, the shrimp prices, do not work.”
But Butler says the FFAW is on to something, regarding the illegality of strikes or lock-outs, but he says, it applies to them.
“We faced illegal shutdowns before, under the Act, when harvesters and the FFAW coordinated in 4R to force producers to pay more money to get a fishery going. That has been the pattern in recent years,” says Butler. “That is wrong under the Act, and it is appropriate for the FFAW to acknowledge that and put it on record.”