Restrictions on Outside Buyers Should be Lifted

The following letter was addressed to Steve Crocker, Newfoundland and Labrador Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Dear Minister,

As president of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), I’m writing to propose that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador lift all restrictions and allow out-of-province buyers into the provincial marketplace for all species.

Further, we propose that restrictions be lifted on local fish buyers to permit them to buy all species.

The creation of an open, free market in the fishing industry would, at best, result in increased competition and more money in the pockets of fish harvesters, many of whom are struggling with the downturn in fisheries for species such as crab and shrimp.

At worst, it would keep local buyers honest.

FISH-NL’s proposal comes after an intensive, province-wide consultation with thousands of fish harvesters, whose support for out-of-province buyers is unanimous.

FISH-NL is attempting to break harvesters away from the FFAW into their own separate union, and the consultation was part of the certification process. The FFAW has failed to raise the issue of outside buyers because of the union’s obvious conflict of interest in representing both harvesters and plant workers under the one umbrella.

FISH-NL takes the stand that out-of-province buyers would still have to abide by provincial regulations related to the collection/remittance of premiums for Workers’ Compensation and Employment Insurance. Outside buyers would also have to employ local labour in the collection and shipment of locally caught fish.

The existing price-setting model would also remain in place, with the setting of the highest possible minimum price for fish. The highest minimum price must remain a benchmark, but more competition should allow for higher prices.

With codfish, for example, most harvesters in the province were paid between 40 cents and 70 cents a pound this past season, while harvesters in the Maritimes were paid $1.70 a pound for their cod as late as this week.

In 2014, the provincial government announced a one-year pilot project to permit seafood buyers from outside the province to purchase 3Ps Atlantic cod from local harvesters.

While that pilot may not have been successful, circumstances have changed since then in that the cod fishery on the Georges Bank off the northeastern United States has collapsed, resulting in an increased demand for cod, as well as a higher price.

Last year, fish harvesters in the province often couldn’t catch their quota when cod were available because local plants weren’t buying. In other instances, local plants were buying cod, but seasonal migration patterns resulted in harvesters not catching the fish. In 3Ps, for example, there have been occasions when there weren’t enough local buyers to meet the demand of the fish that had been landed.

Markets in the United States are looking for the highest quality, unprocessed fish.

By preventing out-of-province buyers from coming in, the provincial government is essentially keeping local harvesters ashore. Seafood buyers from the United States who visited the province as late as this fall were prepared to pay local harvesters as much as $3.50/pound (U.S.) for round fish, head on and gutted.

However, outside buyers have been denied permission to operate in the province on a level playing field.

FISH-NL proposes that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador lift all restrictions and allow out-of-province buyers into the provincial marketplace — not just for cod — but for all species.

Our request consists of the following initiatives, conditions and/or goals:

  • Creating an open and free market would be the first step in helping reverse the catastrophic future that our fishing industry faces. The reality is that the fishery generally isn’t seen as an attractive industry, resulting in less value for fishing enterprises. Increased competition would increase the value of enterprises and generally help turn the industry around.
  • Cod must be graded at the wharf as is done with crab and other species to ensure the highest possible price. Again, with the decline of crab and shrimp and the growing reliance on resurging groundfish such as cod, it’s imperative that harvesters be paid the highest possible price for their catch. It is clear to everyone that can only happen if out-of-province buyers are allowed in.

I will be available, at your convenience, to discuss or elaborate on the need for and benefits of allowing in out-of-province buyers.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Ryan Cleary
President, FISH-NL

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