02 May 2006

Fish and oil

People are wondering if the provincial government will try and take an equity position in the fishery, in the same way they are trying to do in the oil and gas sector.

The answer is already in front of us.

In the spectacular - unprecedented? - government assistance given to Bill Barry's efforts to buy chunks of Fishery Products International (FPI) last week, both Premier Danny Williams and fish minister Tom Rideout indicated that their preferred approach would be to have government purchase the fish harvesting quotas currently held by FPI while an unspecified, but fairly obvious, private sector enterprise would lease those assets from the government to operate however many fish plants they want.

The question isn't whether or not the provincial government will take some ownership stake in the fishery in the near future. It's pretty clear that Danny and Tom want to own the fishery indirectly even if they legally don't set quotas.

In order to get the oil and gas analogy correct, the real question is whether or not the provincial government will seek an equity position in the Barry Group's operation of FPI plants comparable to its demand for an ownership stake in the oil and gas operations offshore.

Something tells me they won't. The Premier has already said he has no interest in getting into the fishing business, i.e. the processing business, believing that is best left to the private sector.

So what's the difference between the oil processing business and the fish processing business?