2-week turnaround tough bid for outside cod buyers, says Gerry Byrne

The two-week window for outsiders to purchase cod from Newfoundland and Labrador fish harvesters passed without any buyers, according to the province's fisheries and land resources minister.

There was some interest in the province's product, said Gerry Byrne, but nothing came of it.

"It seemed very straightforward to those who inquired, but when they began looking at the logistics and having to pay the negotiated price for graded cod there appeared to be a sudden disinterest," Byrne said. 

"I think it's kind of telling in its own right."

Byrne announced the pilot project shortly after members of The Fish Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) began giving away their cod fish for free at St. John's harbour, in protest of what they called the processors' refusal to buy the product.

The FFAW also submitted a request to Byrne asking that outside buyers be allowed to make the purchase.

However, it wasn't as simple as just buying cod fish, Byrne said.

Paying for worker's compensation, deducting employment insurance and paying for a temporary buyer's license was all factored into the price on top of the pre-negotiated price of the fish itself, he said.

While those factors seemed manageable at first, Byrnr said the price, in addition to shipping to mainland Canada, was more expensive than buying fish landed in other waters.

"It wasn't economical for them," Byrne told CBC's The Broadcast.

Not time sensitive

Byrne said the two-week window he had set up for outside buyers was fine in terms of giving companies enough time to figure out logistics.

"To buy cod is not a time sensitive issue. You don't need a one-month building period, you just buy the darn stuff and process it over across the mainland," he said, adding that Newfoundland and Labrador does exactly that for cold-water shrimp when it buys the harvest from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the United States.

He's open to trying this process again if required, but wants to see some discussion around the price of the product.

Gary Locke/CBC

"We know what the mainland prices are, and they're really not much different than the Newfoundland prices," Byrne said.

Meanwhlie, FFAW head Keith Sullivan said there's certainly a market for the fish locally, but points to a short turnaround with just two weeks for outside buyers to consider the catch.

"The market is interested in cod and obviously there's availability and a future in cod here, whether they're ready at that time to come in and do it, it's probably understandable that they didn't turn around really quickly and do it," Sullivan said.

"Within days, really, most of the buyers in Newfoundland and Labrador were buying cod off the boats, so therefore the problem didn't really last too long."

Jane Adey/CBC

But Sullivan said the FFAW's call to open the stock up to outside buyers points to a larger problem in the local market.

FFAW members gave their catch away when they couldn't find a local processor to buy it, saying they would rather give it away to people than see it wasted.

"I would say definitely more commodification from the processors," Sullivan said, on what would help avoid this situation in future.

"I think it was probably the will of a few large processors which really got some of the others to shut down, so I think it was a co-ordinated effort that was unnecessary. If an individual company for a business reason couldn't do it, or was unable to do it, well, that's understandable."

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