Saturday, January 8, 2011

'We are leaderless on all fronts'

The NL fishery is full to the gunnels of can’t-make-this-stuff-up stories, with another one playing out this past week.

It’s a good news fishery story, but for Nova Scotia — not us, and yet another example of the insanity of the NL fishing industry.

The Financial Post carried an article mid-week to do with Lunenburg, N.S.-based High Liner Foods Inc., a “normally quiet little company.”

High Liner (formerly known as National Sea Products or NatSea) announced this week it wants to buy Iceland’s “premier” seafood supplier, Icelandic Group, for $226 million (US). The Icelandic company is said to be one of the three biggest value-added seafood processors to the U.S. food-service market.

High Liner obviously wants to corner the American seafood market, although the Icelanders, an insular crowd, will probably stop any deal dead in the water. Icelanders reportedly aren’t prepared to allow foreign ownership of their primary industry.

Who could blame them.

From NL’s perspective, what’s most interesting about the High Liner story is how the company got to be so successful, how it got to the admirable financial position of being able to bid for an Icelandic powerhouse.

Simple.

High Liner took over the old marketing arm of Fishery Products International in 2007 and, as a result, achieved some of the best financial results of its 110-year history in 2009.

Profits rose almost 40 per cent to $20-million on sales of $627-million.

That’s the same marketing arm that former Premier Danny Williams offered on two occasions to buy in 2006.

Actually, Williams offered to partner with industry to purchase the marketing arm.

Industry — more specifically, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union — turned him down.

Turned him down flat.

The Progressive Conservative administration has been looking to restructure the fishery under an MOU signed with fish processors and the fishermen’s union.

And what will be the key component of that restructuring?

A marketing arm.

•••

The following commentary by Gus Etchegary aired on CBC Radio’s Jan. 7th Fisheries Broadcast. Etchegary wrote the piece specifically for provincial Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Clyde Jackman. I’m currently working on a book with Etchegary — The Rise and Fall of the Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries.


Minister,

We permitted the Nova Scotians — John Risley and his friends at National Sea — to steal the crown jewel of Fishery Products International, Fishery Products Inc., the only Canadian-owned marketing company in the United States.

NatSea had used every trick in the book since the infamous government-commissioned Kirby Report (that accelerated the demise of the NL fishery) of 1983 to get its hands on FPI’s marketing arm and they finally succeeded with the co-operation of Risley and a bunch of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and a disinterested provincial government.

They were permitted to steal a marketing arm that is an "absolute necessity" to a rationalized NL fishery, according to the participants in the MOU process.

Fishery Products Inc. was established in 1942 by Arthur Monroe and was recognized as a leader in the field of seafood marketing from Asia to Europe to all 50 U.S. states.

The fact that Danny Williams offered to buy Fishery Products Inc. and make a deal with the fish processors and union indicated he sensed the importance of the marketing arm.

When they stupidly refused the offer the province should have purchased the marketing arm and, if necessary, established an independent company to operate it for the good of the overall industry.

The acquisition of Fishery Products Inc. has enabled High Liner to make a bundle of money. Instead of shrinking and rationalizing (which is all the talk in NL), the Nova Scotia company is expanding through recently acquiring U.S. fishing companies and now offers $226 million (US) for the largest processing operation in Iceland.

The fact they will be refused by Icelandic owners is beside the point.

High Liner has succeeded in acquiring that one precious organization that took Fishery Products Ltd. and Arthur Monroe nearly half a century to develop, with a world-wide reputation for seafood excellence.

Now, in 2011, after the unforgivable error in judgment by government and industry, the glaring fact is we are on the road to a catastrophe in NL fishing communities, as well as the towns that provide goods and services to those communities.

We are leaderless on all fronts and lacking the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the Government of Canada, which has abandoned our fishery and its responsibilities under the Terms of Union.

Ottawa is rapidly trading away what little control of the fishery we have left — inside and outside 200 miles — through the combination of free-trade negotiations and the ongoing saga brought about by the implementation of recent NAFO amendments.

That amended NAFO Convention — which, critics have warned, allows for foreign control of fisheries inside Canada’s territorial waters — has been fully supported by the DFO/NAFO delegation, including Newfoundlanders and NAFO commissioners Earl McCurdy and Ray Andrews, bureaucrats in our own government, newly crowned ambassadors, senators, fish-processing companies, and many others.

And that’s despite the fact the NAFO amendment had been opposed by House and Senate fishery committees. Indeed, the majority of elected members of the House of Commons voted against ratifying those NAFO amendments.

Despite the dictatorial action by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, there wasn’t one word of objection from the Newfoundland and Labrador government.

There is definitely a need for a judicial inquiry into the fisheries. One way or another it has to be made an issue in the forthcoming federal and provincial elections.

Gus Etchegary,

Fisheries Community Alliance.

1 comment:

Stephen Eli Harris said...

Hey Ryan. Just wanted to let you know that your blog has been selected as the Blog of the Week on the NL Blogroll for this week. Hope it helps find some additional readers to your blog.

Best wishes!