OCI plan would see year-round jobs at Fortune

OCI is seeking permission to export unprocessed fish in return for nearly doubling the workforce at the company's plant in Fortune.

Proposal contingent on approval of yellowtail, redfish exemptions

OCI's Martin Sullivan speaks with David Cochrane 0:54

Ocean Choice International Limited is seeking permission from the Newfoundland and Labrador government to export unprocessed fish in return for nearly doubling the workforce at the company's plant in Fortune.

"If we leave it in the water, we get nothing," company CEO Martin Sullivan told On Point with David Cochrane.

"If we produce it, we get $150 million, and included in that is over 300 jobs. It's $15 million in wages and benefits, which is 40 per cent higher than we had in 2010 operating Marystown and catching and processing at sea. So it's a huge benefit, a net economic benefit to the province, both in terms of wages and in terms of economic spinoff."

On Point with David Cochrane

Watch CBC on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Newfoundland and 12:30 p.m. in most of Labrador.

The OCI plan would see seven million pounds of yellowtail processed in Fortune or roughly 25 per cent of the overall catch. The Fortune plant would employ 110 workers, up from the current 60, and their jobs would be year-round instead of seasonal. Another 150 would be employed at sea, largely in processing.

The other 75 per cent of the yellowtail catch would go to market without being processed on land. While some of that product could be filleted overseas, the majority would be sold as is, according to Sullivan.

He said there is a market for such product in parts of Asia and Europe.

"In China, for example, people like to consume head-on fish," he said.

OCI has also asked for a continued exemption on redfish. That work would employ 50 people on the water, in addition to the 150 working at sea on yellowtail.

Sullivan said the industry needs to attract young people with year-round work.

"There's a demographic time bomb coming, where we won't have people to work in our plants," he said.

OCI's plans are contingent on the province granting both exemptions. Sullivan thinks the proposal is politically palatable.

"I think we make a compelling argument that you can have policies where you get no economic value in the province or you can have policies where you can have $150 million a year," he said.

Initial reaction 'positive'

Fisheries Minister Darin King said "my first reaction is positive" when asked about the OCI plan.

"Young people today do not want to work for 12 or 14-weeks a year," King said. "They want secure employment where they can settle down, and they can take out a mortgage, buy a vehicle, raise a family. So on first blush, the proposal in Fortune is certainly something that we'll give consideration to."

King said the government needs more details on OCI's long-term commitment to Fortune and will conduct its own cost-benefit analysis. A decision, he noted, should be made in short order.

At a press conference Friday, Sullivan said OCI needs an answer by the end of the month. The company has asked for a meeting with the government on Monday.

For both interviews, watch CBC's On Point with David Cochrane at 1 p.m. Saturday in Newfoundland, 12:30 p.m. in most parts of Labrador.