21 March 2006

Was Rideout asleep in the wheelhouse?

Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries minister Tom Rideout told a crowd of Fishery Products International (FPI) workers protesting at the company's headquarters today that FPI will be charged with violations under the province's Fish Inspection Act.

Rideout said the company shipped fish out of the province for processing last year, in violation of the law. The province gave FPI permission in 2004 to ship small yellowtail flounder to China, but today he appeared to say that any shipments in 2005 were illegal.
"Not only did they ship... but they shipped, and they shipped, and they broke the law," Rideout told the crowd.

"Today they're under investigation and they'll be charged. We're not going to put up with it...they'll be charged like anybody else who breaks the law and they will pay the price."
Left: Provincial fisheries minister Tom Rideout addresses a crowd of FPI workers during a protest at the company's St. John's headquarters. Rideout proves some people shouldn't wear toques. [Photo: vocm.com]

Rideout started an audit of fish exports in February this year during discussions with FPI over the company's plans to get out of its current financial troubles. At the time, Rideout told CBC News that FPI did have permission to ship upwards of one million pounds.

At the very least Fish Inspection Act requires that processors submit annual reports to the provincial fisheries department, so Rideout's claim that FPI violated its license raises a number of questions:

1. Did FPI submit the annual reports as required by the Act?

2. Did the fisheries department conduct any inspections of FPI facilities or its records during the past two years to ensure the company was complying with provincial laws?

3. In lieu of or in addition to inspections, did the provincial government require FPI to submit reports on a more frequent basis than annually - for example, quarterly - on the amount of fish it was shipping outside Newfoundland and Labrador for processing?

As much as Rideout may claim that he is getting tough with FPI, there is a good possibility that Rideout's department missed something. The provincial fisheries department is responsible for overseeing the province's processing sector. It's hard to imagine how FPI could ship fish illegally in 2005, as Rideout now seems to be claiming, or that it exceeded its allowable exports by over four million pounds, as others are reporting today, unless the provincial fisheries officials - including Rideout and his predecessor Trevor Taylor - were asleep in the wheelhouse.