The Fish Processing Licensing Board is expected to make a recommendation in the near future on whether or not to approve the transfer of a sea cucumber license to Ocean Choice International (OCI).
Fisheries Minister Darin King acknowledged last week the timing for a transfer is now critical because the sea cucumber season has started.
He said a meeting date has not yet been set but predicted it would occur in the next few weeks.
“I would think it would be sooner rather than later.”
OCI has apparently struck a deal to purchase the license belonging to Carroll’s Store and Fisheries Ltd. in Cook’s Harbour on the Northern Peninsula, and would process sea cucumbers at its St. Lawrence facility.
The minister indicated the five-member independent Fish Processing Licensing Board would make a recommendation to him following the upcoming meeting and he would then make a final decision.
The transfer isn’t without its opposition though.
Harvesters in the Fortune-Grand Bank area landed about 95 per cent of the sea cucumber processed in the province last year. A sizable resource of the species is present off of the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon.
Almost all of it was trucked to two plants operated by the Fogo Island Co-Operative Society Ltd., an expense that would be much lower for OCI in St. Lawrence thus giving the company a competitive edge.
Mr. King indicated Clearwater Seafoods has also made an application for the addition of a new license to process sea cucumber at its Grand Bank facility. He said it’s a possibility given federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea is considering an increase to the overall quota for the species.
Mr. King confirmed the co-operative has already made its case to him against the transfer.
“Those cases will be heard by the Board, and the Board will do an assessment. The Board will have to make a recommendation to me following our government’s policy.”
He acknowledged that would mean taking all factors into consideration before recommending to accept or reject a license transfer.
“Adjacency is a key principle. We believe that you put licenses next to the resource. We don’t, as much as possible, want to be putting licenses all over the province where there’s no resource to support them.
“So they’ll have to consider that and they’ll have to consider the objections that Fogo is raising. I have no idea where they’ll go with it.”
OCI president Martin Sullivan told The Gazette last month a sea cucumber license would extend operations at its St. Lawrence plant, after the crab season wraps up.
“The fishermen that fish it are the ones that kind of supply us with crab and other things, so there’s relationships already. We’re hoping we’re going to learn something fairly soon, because we’d like to try to do some this year in the plant to get started at least.”