Fishery must change, summit participants say
The "status quo is not an option" for the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery, Premier Danny Williams said following a day-long summit on the troubled industry.
More than 70 people — including representatives from the fish union, processors, economists, scientists and regional, provincial and federal politicians — gathered in downtown St. John's Wednesday to attend the closed-door summit.
"We [summit participants] have acknowledged collectively that status quo in the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador is not an option," Williams said.
The premier said there was an agreement among participants that everyone has to do a better job of selling fish product on the international market and the size of the industry needs to be concentrated, with fewer plants and workers.
"I think people are realizing that there may be some commuting where they have to go to work — there will not be a fish plant in every single community," Williams said.
"We're not here today to say there's going be wholesale closing of plants under any circumstances, but everybody around the table is acknowledging that there has to be some restructuring."
Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn said delegates at the summit agreed there was hope for the industry.
"One of the things which encouraged all of us was that it wasn't, you know, your typical bitching session where people come together to complain — not at all," Hearn said.
Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, said he supports the premier's idea to create an industry co-op to take over the profitable marketing division of Fishery Products International.
McCurdy said many people agreed Wednesday that there is a real need for a co-ordinated international marketing effort and said the industry could use FPI's Ocean Cuisine division to establish a larger profile worldwide.
"Something along the lines — whether it's a co-operative, could be a Crown corporation, could be a consortium or something of that nature — we have to have a principal marketing arm for Newfoundland fish products," McCurdy said. "The FPI vehicle could be a corner stone of doing that."
Although the people who attended the fisheries summit identified a plan to help the industry, no one is ready to make any tough decisions yet. The government is promising that Wednesday's talks were only the first step and said there will be more meetings to come over the next few weeks.