Nfld. & Labrador

Millions of pounds of unprocessed fish approved for export as MPR exemptions increase

The province approved exemptions allowing millions of pounds of groundfish to be shipped out of the province unprocessed last year, even after stressing importance of minimum processing requirements.

Rules designed to help protect jobs in fish plants; companies need permission to export product

The Newfoundland and Labrador government exempted millions of pounds of cod from minimum processing requirements in 2014. (CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government approved exemptions allowing millions of pounds of groundfish to be shipped out of the province unprocessed last year, even as it stressed the importance of minimum processing requirements (MPR) to rural regions and squabbled with Ottawa over relinquishing them.

CBC Investigates obtained details on all requests for MPR exemptions from 2010 through 2014, using access to information.

That data reveals an increasing number of requests, and approvals.

And some of the species involved may be surprising.

While cod was once king in Newfoundland and Labrador, forming the backbone of the harvesting and processing sector, those days now seem long past.

In fact, the province approved exemptions permitting millions of pounds of cod to be shipped away unprocessed in 2014.

Those exemptions for cod were granted to a number of different companies, including Codroy Seafoods, Golden Shell Fisheries, Quinlan Brothers, Notre Dame Seafoods and Ocean Choice International.

OCI alone was granted six separate exemptions for cod in 2014, according to records obtained by CBC Investigates.

Four of those OCI exemptions combined totalled more than 1.4 million pounds. The other two didn't have specific amounts attached. One simply referenced 75 per cent of the associated cod catch, the other listed no amount.

In total, the province approved MPR exemptions of nearly three million pounds of cod to a number of companies in 2014.

And still other cod exemption requests were OK'd, with no specific amounts listed.

Exemption approvals increase in late 2014 

Cod was not the only species to see significant exemptions last year.

3 T's Limited was granted a one million pound herring MPR exemption.

Other species on the list in 2014 included hake, pollock, haddock, shrimp, sea urchin, sea cucumber and even seals.  

Those species were granted much lower, or unspecified, MPR exemption amounts.

The overall pace of exemption decisions — and approvals — increased in the latter half of 2014.

The province flashed the green light on 27 of the 29 MPR exemption decisions it made in the last six months of the year. One of the two denials involved an 800-pound box of cod.

By contrast, in 2010 there were just 19 decisions made all year. Eleven of those were approved; the other eight were denied.

How MPRs work 

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Canada with minimum processing requirements.

Those rules govern the level to which each commercial fish species landed in the province must be processed before it can be shipped out.

The idea behind the rules is to protect jobs in fish plants by forcing companies to process Newfoundland and Labrador fish in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The only way a company can ship unprocessed fish out is if they submit a formal request and have it approved by the provincial government.

The data provided to CBC Investigates only outlines the approved amount for MPR exemptions, not the actual amount that was utilized.

Importance of MPRs highlighted

Fisheries Minister Vaughn Granter declined interview requests.

But in the recent past, the Tory government has highlighted the importance of MPRs.

Vaughn Granter is Newfoundland and Labrador's minister of fisheries and aquaculture. (CBC)
"Minimum processing requirements on the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the two very important aspects of what we have here in Newfoundland and Labrador that keeps the fishery alive in rural Newfoundland and Labrador — MPRs, and we also have licensing," Premier Paul Davis told the House of Assembly on Dec. 9, 2014.

"It is important to people in the rural part of the province, it is important to fish harvesters, and it is important to fish processors as well."

Davis was responding to questions from Opposition Leader Dwight Ball about an ongoing federal-provincial conflagration over a trade agreement with Europe.

In October 2013, the province announced that Ottawa would pony up 70 per cent of the costs of a $400-million fishery fund, as part of a trade-off that would see Newfoundland and Labrador forgo minimum processing requirements for European markets.

The issue had been a flashpoint in trade discussions on the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between Ottawa and the EU.

But in December 2014, Davis accused the feds of putting new stipulations on their $280-million contribution to the fund, saying Ottawa was linking the cash to losses directly attributed to the province giving up MPRs.

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