Outside buyers allowed in cod market as fishermen protest in St. John's, Old Perlican

Buyers from outside the province will have a 14-day window to purchase cod from Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters, according to the province's fisheries minister.

Gerry Byrne's announcement comes as members of the The Fish Food And Allied Workers Union set up on the waterfront in St. John's Monday morning, giving their cod catches away for free to protest what they say is a processors' refusal to buy it.

Union members are also protesting outside the Royal Greenland plant in Old Perlican, and the FFAW said it submitted an official request to Byrne Monday morning, asking that outside buyers be allowed into the market.

"The FFAW has said to me this is the solution, this will provide the answer," Byrne said. "They've put their stock and trade, their reputations, on the line about that. They have said those processors will show up."

He said he felt he had no other choice.

Any buyers from outside the province will have to pay the negotiated, graded price for the cod they purchase, and they'll have to buy a Newfoundland and Labrador processing license to do it, Byrne told CBC's The Broadcast on Monday afternoon.

He remains skeptical about how much business the move will bring the province's fishermen, citing a brief pilot project launched in 2014 allowing outside buyers to purchase cod taken from the 3PS fishery, along the south coast of Newfoundland.

It didn't result in a mad dash for Newfoundland fish, Byrne said, adding that he'll be providing daily reports clocking exactly how many buyers show up.

Byrne says cod start time off

The FFAW issued a press release Sunday night saying processors had been turning away cod catches, equating their actions with an "illegal lockout."

"This time of year, northern cod is abundant, the quality is good, and harvesters and plant workers alike deserve to earn a decent living," David Decker, FFAW-Unifor's secretary-treasurer, said in the release.

Minister Byrne said any processors not buying cod are likely doing so because they're still dealing with capelin after that fishing season had a delayed start.

He said the real fix for the FFAW's complaints would have been to delay the opening of the cod fishery.

Derek Butler, executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers, agrees with Byrne.

"It's really an operational issue in respect of the capelin fishery," said Butler, explaining that the capelin fishery is later this year due to better planning, and they can't start dealing with cod until capelin is finished.

"You can't have those two fisheries run concurrently. We're on the tail end of capelin of now," Butler added.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

He said the FFAW protest of giving cod away for free caught him by surprise.

"There is a way to resolve this, which was for harvesters to leave that fish in the water, catch it later, and processors would buy it," said Butler.

"So I don't follow the argument that it's all so terrible that producers aren't buying northern cod this week so we'll have to give it away."

Meanwhile, an Arnold's Cove cod processor said the union is spreading false information.

The FFAW said the Labrador Shrimp Company is the only member of the Association of Seafood Producers buying cod this week, but Icewater Seafoods in Arnold's Cove said that isn't true.

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