Escalating war between fish processors/buyers exposes inshore harvesters have been ‘royally screwed’ on price of fish: FISH-NL

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) says the existing system of setting fish prices in the province is broken beyond repair, and must be scuttled.

“What’s absolutely clear from the escalating fight between processors and buyers is that inshore harvesters have been getting royally screwed on the price of fish,” says Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL.

On Jan. 2, the Seafood Processors of Newfoundland and Labrador (SPONL) — representing 15 small, mostly lobster processors/buyers with a combined export value of roughly $40 million — lodged a complaint against Royal Greenland with the federal Competition Bureau, and asked for an intervention.

SPONL accuses Royal Greenland — which in 2016 purchased Quin-Sea Fisheries, one of the province’s largest seafood processors —of “predatory”, “anti-competitive” practices aimed at controlling the local supply of lobster, and eliminating small independent processing companies

More specifically, SPONL accuses Royal Greenland — which also purchased the former Woodman’s Sea Products facility in New Harbour to handle lobster — of paying harvesters bonuses of between 20 and 40 cents a pound over and above the negotiated price.

As well, Royal Greenland has been accused of providing harvesters with cheap herring bait at 5 cents a pound versus the market price of up to 60 cents.

“This year, in addition to the per pound bonus for the lobster and the rebate for herring bait, the company also provided turkeys to the harvesters,” SPANL’s executive director Francis Littlejohn wrote in the letter to the Competition Bureau.

He added the “questionable actions” of Royal Greenland have extended to cod and halibut fisheries, resulting in “extremely low margins for processors” that could put them out of business. Littlejohn also described the introduction of the “foreign-government owned” Royal Greenland as the “most concerning issue of our time.”

While the Competition Bureau has yet to respond to Littlejohn, Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne, who was forwarded a copy of the correspondence, did.

The minimum price of fish is negotiated between processors and the FFAW-Unifor, with disputes referred to the Standing Fish Price-Setting Panel, which chooses one price or the other. The panel was created by an act of the provincial legislature in 2006, and eliminated a harvester’s right to strike.

In his letter, Byrne said there’s no government policy in place to prevent a foreign processing company from operating in Eastern Canada.

Further, he said Royal Greenland’s decision to pay above the minimum price set by the Standing Fish Price-Setting Panel for lobsters is not a violation of the act. “I understand that the paying of similar types of bonuses under relatively similar circumstances is a common practice within the province’s seafood industry, including by some members of SPONL.”

For its part, FISH-NL says the prices paid by Royal Greenland are closer to the prices paid to harvesters in the Maritimes and Quebec, who are regularly paid far more for their product than here in this province.

“Royal Greenland is paying closer to the actual market price, and our local processors are whining because they can no longer short-change inshore harvesters,” said Cleary. “Scrap the Fish Price-Setting Panel and open to the door to outside buyers so they can operate on an even playing field. Free enterprise is the only answer to ensure fishermen are paid what their fish is worth.”

In an article published in the Tuesday edition of Corner Brook’s Western Star, Byrne said he’s against opening the door to outside fish buyers, arguing local processors are required to deduct workers' comp and EI premiums from the amount they pay inshore harvesters.

However, Quin-Sea Fisheries and Royal Greenland make those same deductions and still pay harvesters far better prices.

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