Nfld. & Labrador

Fish harvesters slam 'cartel-like behaviour' of some processors

The FFAW says there is a "co-ordinated effort" by several big companies, but the Association of Seafood Producers says that is categorically false.

Association of Seafood Producers denies the accusation

Fisheries union president Keith Sullivan says producers are acting to suppress fish prices and more competition is needed. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

The president of the Fish Food and Allied Workers Union is accusing a group of seafood processors of acting like a cartel by banding together and refusing to buy some species. 

"Corporate concentration is nothing totally new. For years, fish harvesters have had to fight back, take action against companies who attempted to dictate the terms of the inshore fishery," said Keith Sullivan. 

Over the past several years, Sullivan said, five large processing companies — including Quinlan Brothers, Royal Greenland, Ocean Choice, Beothuk Fish Processors Limited and the Barry Group — purchased dozens of smaller companies.

"A lot of these companies have gone by the wayside and a few are still operating."

Sullivan said the issue has come up this time with processors with cod and squid.

"This season … companies have actually co-ordinated efforts not to buy fish," he said.

'Categorically false': Association of Seafood Producers

Several of the companies the FFAW is taking aim at are represented by the Association of Seafood Producers. 

Executive director Derek Butler disagrees with Sullivan's claims. 

"Categorically false. But I can appreciate that they need that storyline," he said. 

"They know the story of 500 years of big bad merchants controlling harvesters and controlling fish buying, so that's a good line for public consumption. But … nothing could be further from the truth."

Derek Butler says the FFAW's accusations are false. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Butler said the accusation that members of his association are pressuring smaller plant owners not to buy squid is not true.

"I don't own the keys to any fish plant and I have said when industry has had conversations around when to start buying, or when a collective agreement schedule is in place for buying, it is up to the individual operators," Butler said.

Squid spat

This summer, a bonanza of squid showed up in the water and fetched 75 cents a pound for some larger ones. 

Also this year — for the first time — the association wanted a price reduction, because of water in the squid. That water comes from when the squid would have been stored aboard a boat in a mixture of ice and water. 

"On a load of 1,000 pounds of squid, as much as 10 per cent or more can be water. That would mean 100 pounds of water, for 75 cents a pound," said Butler.

But the union says there has always been water in the squid, and disagrees that there should be a price reduction because of it. 

It's been a banner year for squid in the province as they've been showing up in large numbers. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Despite the acrimony, Butler said there has been progress and that some plants have been buying squid and more are joining in, following a meeting Monday night.

Butler said changes to the squid protocol quality handling provision now allow "for producers to introduce new measures to ensure we get quality out of the fishery."

He said the FFAW has also agreed to a study with Fisheries and Oceans that will look at the issue of water and squid. 

Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne said he is "concerned about the issues raised by the FFAW for the past few weeks regarding conduct with the industry for the past seven years" and welcomes a meeting with the union. 

He said he'd welcome the chance to meet again with the FFAW to talk about the latest issue.

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