Occupy Marystown

George Macvicar
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Wow! It seems like Marystown is destined to have disheartening news at Christmastime. Ocean Choice International has decided it’s time to shutdown its Marystown fish plant immediately.

Wow! It seems like Marystown is destined to have disheartening news at Christmastime.

The Peter Kiewit Offshore Marystown shipyard/Cow Head facility employees are no stranger to having similar news delivered at this time of year.

Now Ocean Choice International has decided it’s time to shutdown its Marystown fish plant immediately, throwing 240 employees onto the unemployment lines. Actually, they’ve been there since July.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) in Marystown has started its own ‘Occupy … movement’ – the phenomenon that has barreled into cities all across North America over the last several months.

It protested the controlling of the majority of wealth in both Canada and U.S. by one per cent of the population, while the other 99 per cent – the rest of us, do not share.

The Marystown FFAW hints at OCI playing its part in the one per cent and has taken over the fish plant.

OCI is using a provincial government external audit confirming the company is losing over $10 million at its Marystown operation since 2008 to justify its closure. That and the company’s belief its only option to show at least a marginal profit is the export of 100 per cent of the Yellowtail flounder, which the FFAW flatly rejects.

OCI plans to pursue that option as well as transitioning Fortune to a multi-species year-round groundfish processing plant. In Fortune, it would mean 110 year-round jobs which the company said combined with the jobs at sea, will mean a higher overall payroll than recorded in the Marystown plant and on the vessels in the past.

That’s not plausible though when this plant at one time employed some 1,200 people and had some 500-trawlermen landing catches there.

Martin Sullivan claims government restrictions on the export of Redfish alone are leaving some $35 million annually out of the provincial economy. He also claims when government restrictions were lifted on snow crab, the fisher prices increased in value by 300 per cent on average.

The Sullivans insisted these tough decisions, while not easy, had to be made because of the circumstances affecting their business. Blaine Sullivan was careful Friday, in their announcement, not to blame the workers but the global economic situation impacting the company.

OCI is committed to investing in excess of $5 million in 2012 at its facilities located in Fortune, St. Lawrence, Bonavista, Port aux Choix and Triton. And, if OCI is successful in its plans for its flatfish business it intends to purchase another vessel for some $10 million.

This is devastating news for a deep-sea fishing community like Marystown and surrounding towns – a major employer shuts its plant because it’s not viable. But then OCI knew this, when it purchased the plant in 2008 from the province, with government figures showing an approximate $15 million loss over three years.

If you’re not prepared to absorb losses at the outset in an effort to return an operation to profitability, then why are you in the game?

In 2008, the FFAW proposed OCI re-configure the newer fishmeal plant building, adjacent to the plant, instead of operating the larger building but the company claimed that did not fit its big plans. Now it wants to transfer to the smaller Fortune plant, which is indeed good news for that town and shouldn’t be belittled in anyway.

The union refused 18 weeks over three years in a new contract in August. Premier Kathy Dunderdale had thrown that back in faces of the workers, in her reaction to the closure, and even placed the blame for the closure in the lap of Marystown union president Allan Moulton.

One has to wonder about OCI’s business plan though, when the CEO of Fishery Products International, the previous owner, said FPI could not survive without the Marystown plant. How does OCI plan to survive in this industry without a cornerstone operation, such as Marystown has been?

George Macvicar, Editor/Manager

Organizations: FFAW, Food and Allied Workers Union, Fishery Products International Marystown union

Geographic location: Marystown, Cow Head, North America Canada U.S. Bonavista Port aux Choix

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  • FishMonger
    December 05, 2011 - 10:54

    How can OCI survive without the Marystown plant? That's the wrong question. OCI will survive by shutting the losing proposition down, and instead focus on snow crab, shrimp, halibut, turbot, whelk, etc. And, ultimately, if they can get the shackles removed from their processing regulations, they will shift into high gear by fishing the entire quota instead of letting the fish swim. True, this will result in lost jobs on terra firma, but will gain jobs on the vessels. The FFAW at Marystown is leading their members down the path toward permanent closure of the plant, and then NO jobs for their members. So be it. The workers need to take a good long, independent look at the realities of the industry. 18 weeks is better than zero. But that's me.