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Tweaks recommended to fish-pricing system; plus formula for setting 2023 snow crab price

But the biggest takeaway from the review of the province’s broken fish price-setting system is that consultant David Conway comes across as speaking for the inshore fleet when he didn’t consult with skippers. There are more than 3,200 licensed inshore enterprise owners in every nook and cranny of this place, and Conway didn't hold a single meeting with them. Not one.

A report of the review of this province's legislated fish price-setting system was presented to the provincial government in September, two months after it was ordered. The report (find it here) recommends tweaks to the existing final-offer selection system, and work this fall towards a formula for setting snow crab prices (similar to lobster and halibut).

Usually, when government considers changing the laws of the land they consult people, like with ongoing consultations on the Elections Act.

Not so with the fishery, raising the question whether fishermen are indeed people.

(That's sarcasm dripping from your screen.)

After a lightening-fast, two-month review of one of the most complex industries in Canada, and following a series of closed-door meetings with the FFAW-Unifor/Association of Seafood Producers, Conway says there’s no support for the free-market system or electronic auctions.

Because Conway's finger was definitely on industry's pulse.

(The sarcasm's flowing now.)

But then it was the provincial government, which set the review's perimeters, that decided it wasn’t important for Conway to carry out broader consultations.

The FFAW may represent small boats, fish plants, and offshore trawlers in a conflict of interest that has undermined the entire set up from the get-go, but that elephant on the wharf wasn't mentioned in this latest review. (SEA-NL raised it, of course.)

Conway recommends that the price of fish continue to be decided by government panel with the continuation of the ban on strikes and lockouts.

He didn't consider other factors that impact the price of fish — including the control that some processors (foreign and domestic) have over inshore boats in terms of financial ties, or even trip limits and fishing schedules.

Processors in this province can import fish from the Maritimes, Quebec, and St-Pierre-Miquelon to process at their plants, while ordering the inshore fleet (which can not access outside buyers) tied to the wharf.

Owner-operators in this province cannot move freely between buyers/processors, and processing companies have been accused of working together as a cartel to keep fish prices down.

Those delicate issues fell outside Conway's mandate, as well as the question as to why fish pricing in this province is excluded from the federal Competition Act.

But then what’s the need of competition when the captains of industry/union don’t want it?

Outside buyers were also outside the review's mandate, so it's probably best fishermen weren't included because they would have brought it up.

Dirty ol' sarcasm.

Inshore fleet at Bay de Verde.

Conway's review recommended negotiations begin this fall towards developing a formula to determine the 2023 price of snow crab, similar to the formulas that determine lobster and halibut prices.

While he suggested the existing final offer-selection system remain in place, Conway recommended the panel have the power to reject both final offers and continue bargaining.

The review report made no mention of the incident this past snow crab season where a processor attempted to pay less than the binding price set by the panel.


“The free-market approach is not a viable or acceptable model to consider given its failures in the past and the potential economic losses to both the parties and the Province.”

“While an auction system has great theoretical appeal there continues to be no significant interest by stakeholders in the Province to use such a system. Furthermore, the fishing industry labour relations model in the Province, including the Act itself, is unique in the world and totally different from that which exists in other jurisdictions such as Iceland. There are no guarantees that such an auction model would work in the Province.”

"If an auction system is ever to be implemented it should be preceded by another pilot project that helps determine whether implementing such a model could be viable."

A pilot project to determine the need of a pilot project.

Can't make it up.

Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization serving as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. You can read more about SEA-NL, and join us here.

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