BY PAUL HERRIDGE
The Southern Gazette
Newly minted Fisheries Minister Darin King acknowledged his new department comes with its challenges.
However, the District of Grand Bank MHA suggested he sees plenty of opportunity in those difficulties as well.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale shuffled Mr. King from the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment into his new portfolio Oct. 30.
Former Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman was moved into the education portfolio. That’s pending the outcome of a recount of votes in the District of Burin-Placentia West later this week following last month’s provincial election. Mr. Jackman edged out NDP candidate Julie Mitchell by just 40 votes.
Mr. King noted one of the industry challenges is an aging workforce and the need to find a way to re-structure the fishery so it’s an attractive option again for young people.
“To do that, we’ve got to make an industry that’s sustainable for the future, it’s viable for the future; and because of that, it’s enticing for new people to want to come to work there.”
Mr. King, who indicated he had a preliminary meeting lined up Thursday with Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) president Earle McCurdy to discuss the industry in general, told The Gazette Wednesday he was ready to dig in to the issues involving the often contentious and controversial government portfolio.
At the same time, he gave credit to Mr. Jackman, saying he did a good job in trying times, and planned to move forward with a fresh set of eyes from where his close colleague left off.
Notwithstanding the negatives, Mr. King suggested there are also some positives in the industry, pointing to an anticipated seafood export value exceeding $1 billion this year, as well as a steadily growing aquaculture industry.
“We’ve done a lot of good in the fishery, I think, over the last number of years. Certainly, Minister Jackman made a great contribution in my view to bringing us through the MOU process and to achieving a number of things.
“Albeit we didn’t accept the MOU in its entirety, but we did move forward, for example, in the marketing recommendations there and put a substantial amount of money on that. And I think he succeeded in bringing the industry together in a manner that certainly allowed us to identify the challenges that we face.”
“If Newfoundland’s fishing industry is going to stay sustainable and competitive in the global marketplace, then we have to make sure we adapt to the new technologies and to the new expectations that the world marketplace has ...” - – Darin King
Mr. King acknowledged some difficult decisions and equally hard actions must be taken to strengthen the industry.
“I can’t prejudge what those will be except to say that we are in a position as a government where we’re prepared to do what we need to do to support the growth of the industry, where we’re moving towards a vision, as I said before, where our industry reflects the changes in society.
“If Newfoundland’s fishing industry is going to stay sustainable and competitive in the global marketplace, then we have to make sure we adapt to the new technologies and to the new expectations that the world marketplace has for the fishing industry and the fish product.”
As for the current strife at Ocean Choice International’s shuttered fish plant in Marystown, Mr. King said an independent audit of the Marystown operation, ordered by Mr. Jackman before the cabinet shuffle, is not quite ready but said he has asked officials to expedite the process.
The company has claimed it is losing fistfuls of cash from processing yellowtail flounder at the facility and requires major changes, including less employment at the plant and allowing even more fish to be processed elsewhere, where labour is cheaper, much to the chagrin of the FFAW.
Once ready, Mr. King said he would share the results and attempt to bring the two sides back to the table.
“Ultimately, it’s not government’s decision as to where Ocean Choice International intends to go with its operations in the province, and in Marystown in particular, but they do have an obligation to talk to the workers and try to work through this process.”