07 November 2005

The FPI-competitor myth and one of the real problems

Among the many things said about Fishery products International over the past few days has been the replay of the old myth from 2001 that the company was now run by its competitors who were, according to some versions of the myth, bent on destroying it.

A simple review of the company's annual reports since 2001 will show just exactly how untrue that little story is.

Since 2001, Eric Barratt of Sanford Limited has had a seat on the FPI board. FPI and Sanford don't fish the same waters.

John Risley of Clearwater and someone from Icelandic Freezer Group got a seat on the board after 2001. Both companies own shares and would be expected to sit on the board. They represent FPI competitors in some senses, but in the highly competitive world - or anywhere else except crowd that are Number One on the Grassy Knoll in VOCM Valley, it could be a good sign that FPI was attracting interest from other companies looking to compete collectively in a highly competitive world.

But lookit - three is the tops. Three directors connected to other fishing companies. That's it.

The rest of the board, i.e the other nine too a dozen all come from other backgrounds having little to do with fish other than to buy it and fry it up in a pan, barbeque it or feed it to the cat.

The problems at FPI have a lot more to do with three other issues.

First, there is the highly competitive fishing industry globally and the decline of fish stocks around the world.

Second, there is the problem locally with way too many people chasing way too few fish.

Third is the provincial government. Gerry Reid and Danny Williams fit into the same box in my view, although neither is going to feel to comfortable as a result. Both Reid, when he was fish minister, and latterly Danny Williams, as Premier, have needlessly interfered with FPI's corporate business. Each, in their own way, prevented FPI from taking sound business decisions and as a consequence they cost the company millions of dollars.

Don't even get me started on the ludicrous idea that one from cabinet has offered up that we should nationalize FPI. Holy heck. That sort of thinking is how we got into the debt/deficit and economic underdevelopment mess in the first place.

But, look, if people want to find someone to blame for FPI's woes, they don't have to invent conspiracies of foreigners.

Locals have done a fine job of shagging up the fishery...yet again. Most fish ministers and premiers over the past 25 years have done more to screw up a decent industry than enough. The more recent ones, like say Gerry Reid or Danny Williams are just the latest in a long line of people who treated the fishery as a social program instead of a proper business. They stand in the way of sound decisions. Like Reid, this evening, they appear to gloat at having blocked FPI. And true to form, they typically have found a few hundred millions in scarce tax dollars to pave over their mistakes.

Let me point once more to the debt/deficit, in case you didn't catch my drift.

Like Rideout's Political Patronage Follies - otherwise known a road work contracts - the pavement is as exceeding thin on the fishery's potholes as it is on the province's high roads.

Truthfully, though, we don't need to waste time pointing fingers.

Now is the time to get on with solutions.

One of the first would be a repeal of the Fishery Products International Act. It's left over from the stoned age of Newfoundland public policy and, as such, long since overdue for repeal.

I called for it earlier this year in the midst of the crab fiasco.

With any luck it isn't too late to get the provincial government out of the fish company business now.