Nfld. & Labrador

No offshore cod fishery in 3Ps could mean plant shutdowns, operators warn

Fish plant operators are questioning why offshore harvesters were not included in an announcement about the opening of the cod fishery in the 3Ps area.

President of Icewater Seafoods in Arnold's Cove says plant could be forced to suspend operations

Fish plant operators worry that plants like Icewater Seafoods in Arnold's Cove will not continue to operate if year-round offshore cod fishing does not continue in the 3Ps harvesting area. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Fish plant operators in Newfoundland are questioning why offshore harvesters were not included in an announcement about the opening of the cod fishery in the area known as 3Ps, which covers most of the coastline along the southern part of the island.

On Friday, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) sent out an advisory saying that as of Tuesday the 3Ps area would be open to inshore and mid-shore fixed gear fleets.

But there was no mention of the offshore fleet — which traditionally fishes in the zone later in the year but is promised access at the same time as the inshore. 

That prompted reaction from the Groundfish Enterprise Allocation Council (GEAC), which represents fish plant operators.

The 3Ps fishing area covers much of the coastline of the southern coast of Newfoundland. (DFO)

In a release sent to media, the GEAC questioned why offshore harvesters were left out of the announcement, which was made late Friday at the start of the long weekend.

"The Minister made the concerning decision to open the 3Ps Cod fishery only to the inshore/seasonal harvesters," the statement said.

What do I say to customers? Last year I had fish for them that was caught from November to March, right now I don't know what to tell those people.- Alberto Wareham, president of Icewater Seafood

"Plant workers, and year-round offshore harvesters whose long-standing quota share is only 14 per cent of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC), were left hanging in the balance, unsure of when, or if, the Minister will open their fishery."

Arnold's Cove

The owner of the plant in Arnold's cove says without product from the offshore fishery, his plant and its employees face an uncertain future.

The inshore fleet stops fishing in November, and last year it was the offshore fishery that kept the plant going until March — meaning 33 weeks of work.

"If they're going to potentially lose one third of their work, 10 to 12 weeks out of 33, and they're just getting ready to start work in the next several weeks, it's not a very positive feeling to look forward to this season," said Alberto Wareham, president of Icewater Seafoods.

He serves big European customers like Marks and Spencer who want product all year round, so a shorter season presents a big problem.

Local FFAW president Melvin Lockyer says without offshore fish to process 200 workers will have less work at the plant in Arnold's Cove (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"What do I say to customers? Last year I had fish for them that was caught from November to March, right now I don't know what to tell those people." said Wareham.

Cod stocks in the 3Ps area have been shrinking, and this year fishermen have faced a 50 per cent cut in quota. The Fish Food and Allied Workers Union has advocated for inshore harvesters to get what's left, leaving out offshore operators, that have about 15 per cent of the total allowable catch.

But the FFAW local representing plant workers in Arnold's Cove is opposed to that plan because it will mean less work.

"Anybody that's planning their year, they're going to lose one-third of their income, said Melvin Lockyer, president of the  local.

'Declining resources': DFO

"The offshore fleet does not usually fish for cod in 3Ps at this time of year," the Department of Fisheries and Oceans wrote in an email to CBC's The Broadcast Tuesday afternoon.

"The Department is engaging offshore fleet representatives in the next few weeks to determine an appropriate way forward in light of the challenging circumstances faced as a result of declining resources in a changing ecosystem."