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OCI workers protest losing work to St. Mary's as their employer builds $20m plant in Nova Scotia

The irony must not be lost that as workers with Ocean Choice International's snow crab operation in St. Lawrence protested today against a proposed processing license for St. Mary's, the company they work for plans to open a new $20-million plant in Darthmouth, NS later this year to handle fish from Eastern Canada — including this province.

Effective 4 p.m. today, the price paid to the inshore fleet for snow crab was set at $6.15/lb, as dictated by the province's price-setting panel. It is widely suspected that trip limits/fishing schedules were used to delay the fishery until the price dropped.



Workers at OCI's St. Lawrence plant fear that if the provincial government approves a snow crab processing license for St. Mary's the operation will take away work (hours of EI-insurable income) from existing plants like theirs around the province.


The Town of St. Lawrence advertised the protest/rally earlier today on Facebook.


At the same time, OCI is building a cold-storage facility in Conception Bay South, with some of the frozen fish destined for the company's new 87,000-square foot Dartmouth operation for further processing, with even more value-added processing planned for Europe.


OCI workers in St. Lawrence don't want their plant to lose work to an operation in another town, but the company they work for doesn't seem overly committed to Newfoundland and Labrador.


It's widely suspected that trip limits/boat schedules have been used by processors/buyers to deliberately slow crab landings until the price dropped, which it did earlier today to $6.15/lb from $7.60/lb.


Dozens of boats that were delayed in catching their crab will lose out on millions of dollars in revenue.


One way around that would be to increase the number of processing plants in the province.


Or would it?


GUIDELINES FOR NEW CRAB PROCESSING LICENSES

In August 2021, the province's fish processing licensing board came up with the following guidelines to consider before recommending any more crab processing licenses:



The Big Reset, the 2021 report of the premier's economic recovery team, recommended that no new fish processing licenses be issued until the provincial government reinstates resource thresholds, which were eliminated in 2019.


"With no new fish resources available, these new licences will only spread the resource around more plants thereby jeopardizing the viability of those that currently exist," read the report.


Provincial Fisheries Minister Dereck Bragg is expected to make a decision "in due course" after meeting with the fish processing licensing board.


While there have been calls for increased processing capacity in the province, there's also a severe shortage of plant workers.


The Big Reset pointed to an auction system of fish pricing (which would involve outside buyers) as a potential way to take “market and quality issues” into consideration in setting the price, but the Furey administration has yet to act on that advice.


To date, 21,551 tonnes or 43% of the province's 2022 snow crab quota of just over 50,000 tonnes has been landed.


Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director,

SEA-NL


To read more about SEA-NL, or to join the non-profit organization please visit sea-nl.ca

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