Nova Scotia

Provincial government backs N.S. seafood companies in redfish row

Divide growing between offshore, inshore interests

Posted: October 20, 2021

Redfish, or ocean perch, is becoming a divisive topic between N.S. and N.L. governments, unions and companies. (Submitted by Marine Institute)

The Nova Scotia government is siding with seafood companies from the province in an increasingly bitter fight over who will get access to the massive redfish population in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Resumption of large-scale, commercial redfish harvesting in the Gulf is still a few years away, but consultations this fall over who will get how much have exposed rivalry between the inshore and offshore fishing sectors within the region.

At stake is access to an estimated 4.5-million tonnes of redfish, which is described by the offshore sector as likely the largest redfish biomass on the planet, and worth tens of millions of dollars.


Before a fishing moratorium was imposed in the 1990s, the offshore fleet held 74 per cent of the redfish quota in the Gulf and a portion of the Cabot Strait.

N.S. companies in line for biggest share, for now

Within the offshore fleet, Nova Scotia companies hold 50.3 per cent of the quota.

Steve Craig, Nova Scotia's minister of fisheries and aquaculture, wants Ottawa to maintain those allocations.

"The quota ought to stay the same," Craig said.

Offshore licence holders like Mersey Seafoods of Liverpool and Louisbourg Seafoods in Cape Breton have spent millions of dollars on the existing fishery, and gearing up for the coming bonanza — based on an expectation the current allocations will be maintained by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"Historically we had these quotas pre-1995," Craig said. "I see no reason to change them now. It's something we've invested in as Nova Scotians."


Who has what?

Nine companies hold offshore mobile gear licences for redfish in what is known as Gulf Unit 1.

The trawler fleet is defined by vessels 100 feet or 30 metres and longer.

The offshore quota is shared this way:

From here to there

Right now, a small 2,000-tonne experimental fishery has been put in place to monitor the stock.

In about five years — when the average redfish reaches 27 centimetres — the fishery could be expanded to 50,000 tonnes. That would transform Canada from a minor to a major player in the global redfish market.

It is a remarkable turnaround for a species that was in serious trouble in the 1990s. It was still considered threatened in 2010.


Three highly productive year classes early in the last decade propelled the rebound.

Calls to suspend 'fIawed' process

Last week, a union representing harvesters and plant workers in Newfoundland and Labrador touched off the public debate at a news conference, where it demanded the lion's share of the booming redfish stock to make up for economic losses in coastal communities.

Keith Sullivan is the president of the Food, Fish and Allied Workers Union. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"But this will only happen if inshore harvesters and Indigenous groups in our province are giving a significant majority of redfish quota when this fishery opens," said Keith Sullivan, president of the Food, Fish and Allied Workers Union.

Sullivan called on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans "to immediately suspend a flawed consultation process."

A DFO questionnaire sent to stakeholders on future quota decisions starts with the historical share that provides nearly three-quarters to the offshore fleet.

The union also exhorted Members of Parliament in Newfoundland and Labrador to join its campaign because "the economy of our province in the future is at stake and there will be serious implications if people are not listened to."


N.L. offshore company fires back at Union

On Wednesday, the president of N.L. offshore licence holder Ocean Choice International pushed back against the union.

Martin Sullivan is the CEO and co-owner of Ocean Choice International. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

"The FFAW executive has vilified the offshore fishery and lobbied to have quotas taken from offshore harvested harvesters and allocated to the inshore," said Ocean Choice president Martin Sullivan.

"It's time this attack stops. It's negative. It's divisive and it's not good for the province."

He said the union campaign threatens jobs and millions of dollars in investments by his company to harvest current and future redfish quota.

"And now this quota is under attack by the union to simply be taken away. When successful, this destroys the livelihoods of offshore harvesters and plant workers, as well as those who hold positions supporting the offshore sector, who are Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and in many cases, members of the FFAW."

Back in Halifax, Craig dismissed the union claims.

"That, I don't think too much of, relative to DFO and its decision on allocating fisheries. In our particular case Nova Scotians feel, and I feel, that we should and ought to remain in the existing quotas that are there," he said.