Fogo Island may be blueprint for outport renewal
Light may have broken on the fishery’s dark days.
The Fogo Island Co-op may have shown itself to be the future of the Newfoundland fishery, an example of how fishermen can make a go of it yet.
A way to save the outports.
— our heritage,
Could it be that the new economic model for rural Newfoundland and Labrador is the community co-op — with fishermen holding the quotas, catching and processing the fish, and selling it to market?
With “millionaire merchants” removed from the equation?
And fishermen free as the waves to make a go of it?
•••The Fogo Island Co-op is in the news this week for being kicked out of the Association of Seafood Producers.
The Navigator breaks the story in its May edition.
UPDATE: The story breaks on The Navigator's website. Editor Jim Wellman tells me the story broke after the May edition had gone to print, so he published it online.
The co-op reportedly broke ranks this spring with the nearly 20 other members of the Seafood Producers by buying crab from fishermen for $1.35 a pound, an amount set by the Standing Fish Price Setting Panel.
The other producers refused to buy crab at that price, arguing it was too high, leaving the industry dead in the water for more than a month.
They insisted on paying fishermen up to 22 cents a pound less.
Not the Fogo Island Co-op.
Co-op officials said the $1.35 a pound fit their business model; they could even make a small profit at that price.
The co-op’s 150 employees have been processing up to 180,000 pounds of crab a day for weeks.
To date, the co-op plant has processed 3.6 million pounds of crab, and expects to produce another 1.5 million pounds, according to a story in today’s Telegram.
That’s well more than the 3.4 million pounds processed at the plant in 2009.
It's fair to say that the Fogo Island Co-op is “different” from the other members of the Accociation of Seafood Producers.
The co-op is owned and operated by fishermen.
“Not by millionaires.”
How novel is that?
•••The May issue of The Navigator tells the story of how the Fogo Island Co-op was built against “incredible odds” in the 1960s.
The way the story goes, the provincial government advised Fogo Island residents to resettle to places like Gander.
The private fish companies that operated on Fogo Island lost faith altogether.
They packed up and moved out, leaving the island in a “terrible bind.”
The people of Fogo Island stayed put, forming a co-op “to do what they knew best — make a living from the sea.”
The Navigator reports that the so-called “Fogo Process” is now an internationally recognized model for community-based enterprise.
According to the magazine (“The Voice of the Marine Industry”), the Fogo co-op built new and bigger boats and fish plants, and grew new global markets for its fish products.
The co-op is described as a “considerable force in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery,” with a fleet of “30 vessels, three fish plants, two buying stations, a laboratory, a welding shop and marine service center.
An example of fishermen doing for themselves
Productive and proud.
But keep in mind that Fogo Island is known for more than its fishery co-op.
Its tourism sector is top drawer.
Could Fogo Island be the blueprint for outport renewal?
•••Of course, there was no way Fogo Island could stay a member of the Seafood Producers.
Not with the fishermen-first attitude.
Ken Budden, the co-op’s sales manager, was also reportedly thrown off the association’s board of directors.
Although that was expected.
It’s been said the Association of Seafood Producers may “punish” the Fogo Island co-op for its maverick ways.
There’s no sign of that yet.
As well, the vote to kick the Fogo Island Co-op out of the Association of Seafood Producers may not have been unanimous, The Navigator reports.
It's reported that two other member companies — including Beothic Fish Processors of Valleyfield — voted against the motion to expel the co-op.
•••I was forwarded the copy of a letter Tuesday night written by David Boyd of Twillingate.
Boyd has written to Premier Danny Williams and Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman asking for an investigation to determine whether a cartel exists in the processing sector.
Writes Boyd: “It is my understanding that it is illegal for firms to conspire for the purpose of eliminating competition in an industry. If this is not proof positive, I do not know what is.”
Ironically, the month-long delay in the opening of the crab fishery ended after the panel upheld its earlier decision on price, and processors agreed to pay $1.35.
It’s fair to say the Fogo Island Co-op has undermined the Association of Seafood Producers.
But then maybe it’s time to decide which comes first:
Fisherman or fish merchant?
It's one or the other.