CORNER BROOK When the federal government implemented the groundfish moratorium in 1992, many people thought that was it for the fishing industry in this province.
"It was over and it is gone for a lot of people and that is regrettable, but it is not over and it is not gone for everybody," said Bill Barry, chairman and CEO of Barry Group Inc. "And those of us that survived in it and went on to build really bigger and better businesses get up every day in the fishing industry in Newfoundland and do it optimistically. I know I do."
Barry said with the groundfish portion of his business affected by the moratorium, his business had to change in order to survive.
And change it did.
The company operates 11 plants in the province and has others in the Maritimes. Its diversified catch of a large variety of species includes shrimp, crab, lobster and salmon.
So with the 20-year anniversary of what was originally to be a two-year hiatus to fishing drawing near, Barry recently described the moratorium as an historical phenomenon.
“It’s just something that happened back 20 years ago and we haven’t looked back since.”
Barry said his attitude to change was and continues to be “que sera sera, whatever will be, will be.”
The options that people have in business when changes come, he said, whether it’s currency, market or supply changes, is that they either change quickly and get ahead of it and survive, or you don’t change and not last. There are no other options, he said.
Being a family business made it easier to change.
“You’re not answerable to shareholders or boards,” he said. “You own the business yourself, so you sit down and decide ‘OK what do we need to do so as a family to keep this business going in the future?’ ”
Barry said family-owned businesses can make decisions very quickly, whereas other structures, such as public companies, takes more time.
“By the time they decide to change, they’re gone under,” he said.
At the time of the moratorium, he said things seemed hard and this is always the case when you’re going through a crisis. This prompted the courage to make quick decisions in order to survive.
As to whether or not announcing the moratorium was a good decision, Barry said it didn’t really matter.
“When the fish are not there, whether somebody tells you you can’t catch them or you just can’t catch them, it doesn’t matter. If it’s not there, it’s not there,” he said.
“So when the stock took a significant reversal in terms of the size, for a whole gamut of reasons, putting the moratorium in place was the only responsible thing the federal government could do.”
Looking forward Barry said the fishery will continue to change.
The moratorium, he said, was predominantly on cod and cod feeds on juvenile shrimp and crab, so a lack of cod meant those shellfish species have thrived.
“During the next 20 years you’re going to see cod recover and you’ll see those cod stocks come back because they’re coming back now. And so during the next 20 years you’ll see a change that will move from shellfish into cod.
“And then the industry sometime in the next 20 years will be confronted to change back to more groundfish like cod and less crab and shrimp.”
Barry for one is ready to change with the industry.
“We can change on a dime. I’m prepared to change in 20 minutes if we have to,” he said. “There’s no other way to approach business especially in today’s world.
“You know you’ve got a global economy. You’re competing with everybody in the world and there’s always somebody wants to have your lunch and you’re either going to compete with them and have structures that will work or sit back and moan and complain, and bitch and blame it on the fish, and blame it on the fishermen, or blame it on the companies, or blame it on the union or blame it on the government.
“But it all amounts to nothing because at the end of the day, you know if the fish is not available you can’t catch it and companies that change, change aggressively to meet a new reality, they’ll be here and the ones that don’t, won’t.”
As a fifth generation family business, four of his sons and one of his daughter now work in the company, Barry said his family has no intention of getting out of the fishery anytime soon.
With a grandson named Billy Barry, he’s hoping the business is carried on for generations to come.