Cod returning, but long way to go for successful fishery, plant CEOs say

Alberto Wareham says when the cod stocks return, the fishery will look quite different: The market of the future will be a smaller scale, higher-quality enterprise, he claims.

High-quality market is the fishery of the future, according to Icewater Seafoods

Here's a view of the production line at the Icewater Seafoods cod plant in Arnold's Cove. The company employees more than 200 people for more than six months of the year. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Big change is needed in Newfoundland and Labrador to prepare for the return of a cod-fishing industry suspended since 1992, according to two fishplant directors.

While the North Atlantic cod stocks are showing some signs of health, two fish plant executives say fishermen in the province have a long way to modernize since the moratorium announced in 1992.

"We are thinking about going back to the cod fishery that existed in the 1980s, and the market doesn't want that cod fishery," John Risley, a director of Clearwater Seafoods, told the St. John's Morning Show.

"Newfoundland is not ready for it. The industry has changed dramatically."

Smaller, but better

The Icewater Seafoods plant operates more than six months of the year, and could be going longer if not for the limited supply of raw material. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

DFO research released this year estimated the cod biomass in the 2J, 3K and 3L regions has reached 538,000 tonnes of fish.

That's the highest level since 1992, but still well below the level needed for a commercial fishery.

Icewater Seafoods head Alberto Wareham says the stock is probably five to 10 years away from talking about a "large-scale commercial fishery."

Even then, he says it will look quite different: The market of the future will be a smaller scale, higher-quality enterprise, he says.

Alberto Wareham says the cod markets have changed substantially in 24 years.

"That's basically the fishery of the future, it's focused on producing a premium quality," Wareham told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

He claims his fish plant, located in Arnold's Cove, is the only one left in North America with a focus on premium North Atlantic cod.

It creates individually quick-frozen portions, with as little block product as possible — and no saltfish. The product is shipped mostly to consumers in the United Kingdom and France.

Wareham says his plant could produce up to 50 million pounds of codfish each year, and the province would only need the capacity of five or six similar plants.

He says he is 100 per cent invested in the future of the cod fishery.

"We need to do this right, we need to go slow. We don't want to cap off the growth; we need a sustainable fishery."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show