04 November 2005

FPI changes may signal massive problems in fishery

Derrick Rowe's departure from his job as chief executive officer of Fishery Products International may well signal wider problems in the local fishing industry.

There are already the problems in the crab sector and in shrimp, as reported widely during the summer. Add to that the chronic problem noted by provincial fisheries minister Trevor Taylor. Clear-eyed Taylor points to the fact there are simply too many people and too many plants in the province for the volume of fish out there. Add behind all that the growing competitiveness of the fishing industry and the province is set for some heavy changes to an industry that holds the status of being not so much as business as the religion of the place.

One of many things some people in the province refuse to acknowledge is that a company like FPI can actually ship fish to China, process it and bring it back to market in North America for less than it would if the fish were processed in Newfoundland and Labrador.

FPI's financial situation, including an additional $90 million in its debt load as reported by CBC Radio's David Cochrane, may have a spillover effect into the wider market. FPI is not only the major fish company in the province; it also supports smaller processors in a variety of ways.

The fall and winter may well be extremely difficult politically for the provincial government.
Taylor has spoken openly of the overcapacity in the fishery. At the same time, Premier Williams has committed to assisting the community of Harbour Breton cope with the closure by FPI of the community's fishplant. While it is far from conclusive, these contradictory opinions suggest that there are some significant policy differences within government on fisheries issues.

If real, they would only complicate a looming problem in the fishery that needs to be addressed decisively.