Furlong | Finding connections at the Boston seafood show

In a fiercely competitive fishing industry, Newfoundland and Labrador has a tough challenge, John Furlong writes from the International Boston Seafood Show.

Minister's absence from trade meeting disappoints some in industry

I was surprised by the way I felt when I arrived here in Boston. Like a lot of other Newfoundlanders, I knew a little about the connection between Newfoundland and Boston and that many of us had relatives who went to "the Boston States" for work in the fishery and other industries.

In my case, some of my Furlong ancestors went to Boston to work in bakeries and came back to run the Smithville Tea Room in St. John's. My wife's grandparents were from Conception Bay North, he from Western Bay, she from a now-gone area known as the Redlands near Job's Cove. They were married in Boston.

So perhaps it is natural that I feel a kinship to this city that goes well beyond my longstanding loyalty to the Boston Bruins. The people of Boston have roots that go back to the same reasons that planted many a Furlong and Malone and Fitzgerald in Newfoundland.

Thumbing through the Boston phone book you can see they have their own crop of Sullivans and O'Briens and Delaneys and Kellys.

So given the connection to the sea and the fishery and to Ireland, it's a natural fit for the world's largest international seafood show to be held here in Boston.

Enough of that warm and fuzzy talk

This is where all the warm and fuzzy stuff about heritage ends, though. This is about business. A big, rough industry that is a survival of the fittest. This is no place for the weak.

What an eye-opener to see how tough a challenge it is for Newfoundland and Labrador. Up against these big brutes of companies and countries that somehow have it all together, including cohesive and interesting marketing strategies!

And then there's Newfoundland and Labrador. Trying to be all it can be, trying to play in the big leagues, and trying to sustain its place in the world markets.

Our companies here are doing all this against a backdrop of a system that doesn't seem to be on their side: minimum processing requirements, a government that shapes some of its fisheries policy based on the union's likely reaction, the continued social engineering that goes on in the fishery, as in the case of the Labrador crab in 2J, where the government continues to want people stamped up even if it risks devaluing the price of the crab and ultimately the fishery.

Minister absent

Fisheries Minister Derrick Dalley was a no-show this weekend. People here can't remember the last time the province's fisheries minister wasn't here to stand shoulder to shoulder with an industry that's struggling to maintain its global presence.

Without overstating it, some here were disappointed, others hurt.

Emergency cabinet meeting on the budget, I offered to one participant here, a Port De Grave fisherman.

"Bet they would have found a way to make it if it was an oil and gas conference," he said. Ouch!

Still, the people that are here from Newfoundland and Labrador soldier on, trying to hold on to whatever markets and customer base they have in an increasingly competitive and changing industry.

I'll bring you more observations later about this mammoth, one-thousand-exhibit world stage of today's international seafood industry.