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SEA-NL recommends electronic fish auction pilot project for 2023 season

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Friday, Sept. 23rd, 2022


Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) recommends the introduction of an electronic auction pilot project for the 2023 fishing season to address the industry chaos of recent months, and help achieve fair market share for the inshore fleet.


“This province is the only jurisdiction I know of outside of China or North Korea where electronic auctions and other free-market systems are not used to set the price of fish,” says Ryan Cleary, SEA-NL’s Executive Director. “That alone tells you there’s a problem.”


SEA-NL recommended an electronic auction pilot project in its recent submission to a review of the province’s legislated system of fish pricing. That system is known as final-offer selection, and involves a government-appointed panel setting the price of fish when the union and processors can’t agree.


The province called the review in late July after prices set by the panel failed to kick-start fisheries like northern shrimp, sea cucumber, and capelin. Enterprise owners either wouldn’t fish for the panel price, or processors wouldn’t buy for it.


Under SEA-NL’s proposal, a modified final-offer selection bargaining model would continue to set the minimum price for fish based on average quality, while an electronic auction — involving outside buyers — would establish the highest possible price by allowing for the interplay of full market forces.


“An auction system would also address the high level of control processors have over some enterprise owners in that catches would be sold to the highest bidder — not the financier of the fishing operation,” said Cleary.


A 1998 provincial task force report by local economist David Vardy first recommended the final-offer selection method of fish pricing as a pilot project to run parallel with an electronic auction pilot project. Only the auction didn’t get off the ground for almost 10 years, and was later deemed a failure after processors wouldn’t take part.


Vardy was also a member of Premier Andrew Furey’s 2021 economic recovery team whose report highlighted the “rejection” of the electronic auction system.


“Premier Furey might even consider hiring David Vardy again to put together the electronic auction pilot project considering he’s been over the same ground before,” Cleary said.


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