Change in policy announced after FFAW protest
Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne says he’s just listening to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) by approving the sale of cod to out-of-province fish processors.
On Monday, the FFAW held demonstrations in Old Perlican and St. John’s over its concern that local processors were not yet purchasing cod from local harvesters. In St. John’s, a free cod giveaway drew attention from the public and Byrne.
The issue, according to Byrne, is that processors and harvesters had requested that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) grant a three-day delay to the start of the caplin fishery this year, which was granted. But a delayed caplin fishery was not accompanied by a delayed start to the northern cod fishery, leaving northern cod harvesters with cod to sell, but no local buyers waiting on Monday.
Derek Butler, executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP), says the plan was – and remains – for purchasing of cod to begin on Sunday.
In the meantime, Byrne says a two-week trial began on Monday to allow out-of-province processors to purchase cod from local fish harvesters to make up for any money lost by cod harvesters as a result of the local purchasing delay.
“Every time a request was made to DFO to delay the caplin fishery, it had the inevitable consequence of colliding with the opening dates of the cod fishery,” said Byrne.
“The industry asked for the delays, it was supported by the FFAW, supported by some fishermen, it was supported by the ASP, and ultimately agreed to by DFO.”
Out-of-province processors have the next two weeks to come in and buy any cod available. They have to pay local fees and deduct employment insurance benefits, but they can process the fish outside of the province.
Byrne says he’s not too concerned that local fish plants will see a major lack of fish to process as a result of fish potentially being taken out of the province.
“I am somewhat skeptical, I’m not completely convinced we’re going to get outside buyers to come into the province, but we are making that offer and we’ll see what happens next. I will be reporting on a daily basis any outside buyer who registers with Fisheries and Land Resources,” he said.
“I will indicate who they are and where they are setting up shop.”
Butler says he doesn’t expect to see large-scale sale of local cod outside the province, but he’s worried the reaction to the FFAW’s concern is too grand.
“No doubt, there are harvesters who would have preferred to fish this week their allocation of 1,600 pounds (and) in the face of the producers not buying, lost that opportunity. But that fish is in their quota. They’ll get to fish their weekly limits,” said Butler.
“The option is there not to fish this week and give it away for free, but to fish it next week and we would buy it. So, I think it’s an overreaction to a very reasonable operational decision in terms of the caplin fishery butting up against the cod fishery.”