The provincial government has rejected a request from cod harvesters on the south coast over concerns related to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) currently being negotiated between Canada and the European Union.
Harvesters in NAFO Division 3PS had been leaving significant amounts of cod in the water because of low prices and, in recent week, a lack of buyers. With no sale for their fish, the fishermen asked provincial Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Derrick Dalley to lift restrictions to either allow them to ship cod outside the province whole, or else allow buyers from outside the province to come in.
However, FFAW President Earle McCurdy said Dalley has turned down the request, and that the ongoing CETA talks are a factor in the decision.
"The minister's response was that in light of the potential negative impact that would have on the province's position with the CETA negotiations… that it would be very untimely to do that now," McCurdy told The Fisheries Broadcast.
"There's no question there are some important considerations in those negotiations for our industry, including for the people in question here who are trying to sell a bit of cod. I understand that to a point, but having said that, it's not reasonable to have a policy that you have to keep the product in the province when buyers in the province are not prepared to buy," he said.
"My understanding of the issue with respect to cod and the CETA agreement – why that just for the moment is a bit problematic – is that cod is in fact a product that we sell to a significant extent into Europe."
A statement released to CBC by the department on behalf of Dalley confirmed the decision, but said it goes beyond issues related to trade talks between Canada and Europe.
"The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture will not provide an exemption to allow cod to leave the province unprocessed. The department does not believe issuing an exemption would provide maximum benefit from the resource."
In the meantime, Dalley said the issue doesn't necessarily end there, and that province is continuing to discuss issues related to cod with harvesters and processors.
OCI deal shows 'double standard'
Allowing fish to be shipped out of the province in a largely unprocessed state is not without precedent.
In December, the province agreed to lift minimum processing requirement restrictions to allow Ocean Choice International (OCI) to ship out all of its redfish and 75 per cent of its yellowtail flounder quotas, in return for 110 jobs at the plant in Fortune.
McCurdy said allowing OCI to be exempt to minimum processing requirements while denying harvesters the same opportunity, raises some questions.
"I think that's been a bit of the Achilles heel in the policy. It's really been kind of a double standard that there's been that high level of exports of yellowtail and yet even when it's very difficult to find markets for cod here, there hasn't been any. That double standard can't continue," McCurdy said.
"I don't understand the justification for saying someone is not free to do what OCI is free to do with their yellowtail for example."
McCurdy also called out the processing industry for not appropriately marketing cod.
"I believe there is an onus on the processors who are given those special privileges in that regard to invest in marketing cod," he said.
"We really need a strategic emphasis and priority on being able to move cod products. The current situation is just not fair or reasonable for people who have invested in fishing enterprises and deserve at least a fighting chance of being able to move their product."