A Crown corporation owned by the Greenland government is set to become the largest fish processor in Newfoundland and Labrador, dramatically changing the landscape of the province's fish-processing industry.
In a deal recommended by the Fish Processing Licensing Board and approved by Fisheries Minister Elvis Loveless, Royal Greenland is taking controlling interests in Quinlan Brother's fish plants in Old Perlican, Bay de Verde and Baie Verte.
Royal Greenland subsidiary Quin-Sea Fisheries will take over valuable crab, shrimp and other processing licences owned by Quinlan Brothers.
Royal Greenland is also taking a controlling interest in St. Anthony Seafoods in a partnership with Clearwater Seafoods.
Two views on the deal
In a statement, Quin-Sea managing director Simon Jarding called the deal a "very positive outlook that will generate jobs and a future for investments in the seafood sector in Newfoundland."
Keith Sullivan, president of the Fish, Food & Allied Workers union sees it differently.
"We're seeing a pattern here in the last couple of years that's really a symptom of a lack of competition," he said.
With the elimination of Quinlan Brothers, Sullivan said, three companies — Royal Greenland, Ocean Choice International and the Barry Group — will now control about 75 per cent of all fish processing in the province, and close to 85 per cent of the shellfish processing in the province, which has an export value in excess of $500 million per year.
Sullivan said the deal is of such significance it should be debated on the floor of the House of Assembly and not left up to an unelected, four-person board.
A done deal, says the fisheries minister
But Loveless said that will "absolutely not" happen, adding he has faith in the integrity and due diligence of the Fish Processing Licensing Board.
"The FFAW is asking us to go to the House of Assembly to allow the politicians to determine what the decision would be, he said. "No. The fish processing board is an independent board with lots of experience around it that I say holds credibility, a lot of credibility."
Loveless also says the FFAW's numbers in regard to the amount of fish processed by the three largest companies.
"My departmental numbers are showing me three companies, affiliated processing plants, processed approximately 55 per cent of all fish processing in the province and 57 per cent shellfish."
Licensing board flags foreign investment
In its recommendations to government, the licensing board said it had "a lengthy discussion on the issue of foreign investment in the fishing industry" in light of Royal Greenland's takeover, noting it might a policy matter for the provincial government to pursue.
Foreign investment by companies who are normally our competitors, the board writes, "raises the possibilities of key decisions affecting our industry and fishing communities here in Newfoundland and Labrador being made in another country."
Loveless said he will meet with the board and other stakeholders to discuss foreign investment and other concerns.
Simon Jarding of Royal Greenland declined to do an interview about the deal, but in an interview with CBC's Central Morning about the joint venture with Clearwater in St. Anthony said, "We expect when the shrimp season opens in 2021 we'll pick up where the plant used to do a lot of shrimp. We will have hopefully a great shrimp season."
The plant didn't open this fishing season.
According to the licensing board, no letters of objection were received on the Royal Greenland application to take over Quinlan Brothers plants, and just one letter of objection with multiple signatures against the deal over the plant in St. Anthony was received. Twenty-four letters of support were received for the deal in St. Anthony.
After receiving no complaints about the Royal Greenland's Quin-Sea proposal, the board called a separate hearing on corporate concentration.
Under the St. Anthony deal, St. Anthony Basin Resources Inc. is selling its 25 per cent ownership stake to Clearwater to allow the sale to go through.
SABRI will continue to have a 4.5 per cent share of the northern shrimp quota in Area 6, which is fished by Clearwater's trawlers.
Loveless, meanwhile, says Royal Greenland has been in the province since 2016 and has invested $21 million and created 650 jobs.
The company operates six plants and is acquiring four more in this new deal.
Quinlan Brothers president Robin Quinlan will remain in charge of day-to-day operations. No breakdown of ownership share was provided.