Seafood industry seeks moratorium on new Nova Scotia plants

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Seafood industry seeks moratorium on new Nova Scotia plants

Nova Scotia's seafood industry is seeking a moratorium on new plants and lobster pounds and wants the province to stop issuing new buyer and processor licences.

Under the industry proposal, licences would also be transferable and could be sold. That would offer a windfall for current licence holders who at the moment must give them up when they exit the business.

"We would like to see in the buying/processing sector a limited-entry system with transferability attached to it," said Leo Muise of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, an industry association that recently changed its name from Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association.

The request was recently submitted to the Nova Scotia government as it reviews its seafood licensing regime.

Harvesting is regulated by the federal government, but once the catch is landed it becomes the responsibility of the province, which issues licences and permits covering purchase, transport, storage and processing.

From wide open to closed 

Since the early 1990s Nova Scotia has had a moratorium on groundfish plants. It was imposed after a collapse in the ground fishery. The seafood processors want the moratorium extended.

"It would take that same system and apply it to all species out there," Muise told CBC News.

"We strongly feel there is enough capacity in the province right now and the commercial fish supply is limited to what's in the ocean. We feel there is a nice balance right now and we would like to keep it at that level."

The Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries review — which was not announced — began in 2016 and will take a year. Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell was non-committal on the industry ask.

"I think that they have an argument in that case. At the end of the day I don't know what will happen," Colwell said.

Proposal would mean a windfall

Right now there are few limits for entry into buying or processing.

The industry proposal would dramatically change that. If adopted, buyers and processors would be able to sell their licences like lobster fishermen.

"If there is a limited supply of licences available and you want to enter the business you buy out an existing plant and that gives that licence a value," Muise said.

Bernie Berry of the Coldwater Lobster Association — representing lobster fishermen in southwestern Nova Scotia  — says he just learned of the proposal and will analyze its impact on harvesters.

He predicts limiting entry and allowing licence sales could a create situation similar to the one that already exists on the harvesting side.

"We could run into the same problem we have now in the lobster fishery where a young gentleman, if he wants to get into the buying end of it, it's going to be super expensive as opposed to now, it's two or three hundred dollars," Berry told CBC News.