© Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
Fisheries Minister Darin King announced today that Ocean Choice International (OCI) has been denied a permanent redfish exemption.
ST. JOHN’S — Newfoundland and Labrador has refused to grant permanent fish processing exemptions that critics say would ultimately shut down fish plants in the province.
The government announced that it had turned down Ocean Choice International’s request for permanent exemptions that would have allowed it to ship much of its groundfish quota to Asian markets unprocessed.
“This type of exemption would be unprecedented,” Fisheries Minister Darin King told a news conference Friday.
“What their request means is that they want no minimum processing requirements for the future. I have decided this request cannot be entertained.”
King said he will make a decision on temporary exemptions in coming weeks.
But he said Ocean Choice has been slow to provide information on profit margins and market conditions for redfish that he needs to assess the fairness of any deal.
King also accused the company of using pressure tactics and threatening to land redfish elsewhere.
The minister said he learned earlier this week of Ocean Choice’s plans to land redfish from quotas purchased from Nova Scotia.
“Our government is not interested in playing games,” he said.
“We want to ensure the maximum benefit for Newfoundland and Labrador in whatever final decisions are made in respect to OCI’s request.”
Ocean Choice asked for the exemption on processing requirements in exchange for creating 110 full-time jobs at its plant in Fortune, N.L., and it had asked for answer by Dec. 31.
The Fortune plant would process about one-quarter of its yellowtail flounder catch, or just over three million kilograms, while the rest would be handled at sea and shipped straight to market.
The union representing fish harvesters and plant workers in the province had called on the government to use processing rules as leverage to protect jobs.
Earle McCurdy, head of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers, praised the minister’s response Friday and said the move by Ocean Choice to land Nova Scotia redfish was “too cute by half.”
“It confirms very clearly what we’ll be facing in a little over four years’ time when the current agreement runs out.”
McCurdy said a total refusal to offer processing exemptions isn’t realistic, but he urged the province to carefully consider temporary measures.
“You have to look not only at where the market is today, but also be mindful that markets change,” he said.
Ocean Choice announced last month that it’s closing plants in Marystown and Port Union, throwing 410 people out of work.
The company says it makes no economic sense to handle species like redfish in onshore plants, when Asian markets don’t want fully processed product.