The provincial government recently released the review recommendations for our fishery’s price setting panel late last week.
The review was mainly done in response to the 2022 fishery — where processors refused to sit across the negotiations table from us, refused to pay the prices set by the panel and closed some fisheries down entirely.
2022 was by far the most difficult year of negotiations I can recall as someone who has been around the table now for over a decade. I’ve been fishing 25 years and have been involved on committees for most of that time. What I’ve witnessed in recent years from Derek Butler and the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) member companies like Royal Greenland and OCI is a complete and utter disdain for inshore fish harvesters. Their refusal to play fair has minimal impact on their deep pockets — but they know the impact is felt greatly by owner-operators, our crew and the plant/wharf workers in our communities.
The vast majority of fish harvesters I talk to agree that the Standing Fish Price Setting Panel is the best tool for setting minimum prices in the inshore fishery and doing away with it entirely is not the solution. But we also agree that it’s not perfect and there are certainly improvements that can be made. I was pleased to see that Mr. Conway agreed with this, from my interpretation of his nearly 40-page report.
As it stands, the price negotiations process is skewed in favour of the handful of processing companies that control most of our fishery. A complete lack of transparency with regard to yield and market information puts all the power in their hands. It’s a mafia-esque arrangement that seeks to dismantle our inshore fishery, taking the wealth from our province and into the pockets of a few CEOs and their shareholders.
Nobody is denying these companies also have a business to run and we know they can’t do it at a loss. But holding a processing license is a privilege — and our government has an obligation to ensure that these companies operate ethically, morally and to the benefit of the people of our province.
What comes next in this process will be seeing how the government decides to implement the recommendations. Because let’s not forget — this is the same government that recently turned down recommendations from the Processing Licensing Board to increase processing capacity and reduce corporate concentration in the snow crab industry. The measly capacity increase they did provide serves no benefit to 99 per cent of crab harvesters, who endure trip limits, scheduling and favouritism from companies.
With a global recession looming, it’s unclear what the next fishing season holds.
What I can say for sure is, if these recommendations from Mr. Conway are not taken very, very seriously by our provincial representatives, our inshore fishery may not be around much longer.
Charlottetown, Bonavista Bay, N.L.