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Quota quandary

Fisheries Minister Darin King's rejection of processing exemptions for Ocean Choice International (OCI) last week may have initially been welcomed as a victory by the company's former employees holding vigil at its fish plant in Marystown.

But by reading the press release that accompanied Thursday's announcement, it's hardly a ringing endorsement to start negotiations to re-open facility. In fact, there's no mention of anything close to that.

OCI originally approached the provincial government for permanent exemptions to ship its entire redfish quota and the vast majority of its yellowtail quota overseas, with no onshore processing, in lieu more work at the company's facility in Fortune and increased employment on its trawlers at sea.

Minister King said in the release, in its talks with the company, the provincial government "sought enhanced benefits in relation to Fortune, and adequate support for displaced workers at Marystown and Port Union."

He went on to say he was "disappointed that no action has been taken for displaced workers with regards to the provincial government's request for the company to provide a top-up to the current Fish Plant Worker Employment Support Program. The company and the union have not met to advance these discussions."

All the talk on the one side was of help for displaced workers, and on the other, support for OCI's problems.

Minister King said the provincial government recognizes the difficult situation OCI is in, pointing out its predecessor, Fishery Products International, also had similar financial challenges.

"The economic circumstances for yellowtail and redfish remain challenging, particularly with the appreciation of the Canadian dollar and high fuel costs."

He went on to say that the provincial government's own analysis indicates moving yellowtail production to Fortune and allowing the company an export exemption for the rest - but not quite as much as OCI originally wanted - along with redfish, showed favourable results.

Indeed, long-term exemptions weren't the reason why Minister King rejected OCI's proposal last week. It was the company's unwillingness to budge on the future of quotas, formerly controlled as part of Fishery Products International, and now held between the province and OCI under the nine-year Quota Holdco agreement set up in 2007. 

The agreement carries on previous regulations that dictate the landing obligations and processing requirements for yellowtail flounder and redfish as outlined under the Fishery Products International Act.

When it expires a few years from now, if it is not renewed, there's a possibility OCI could choose to land its quotas in another province altogether and there wouldn't be a thing the provincial government could do about it.

Minister King has said he expects the federal government would restore the current agreement for another nine years. However, other quotas in the country work on an annual basis and have no landing or processing stipulations. OCI CEO Martin Sullivan acknowledged the Quota Holdco is the only one of its kind in Canada.

That's why Minister King had to reject OCI's export exemption request last week - not because he was against long-term export exemptions for the company.

And that doesn't bode well for the plant workers in Marystown.


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