The announcement of a new snow crab processing licence for the fish plant in St. Mary's was celebrated with a parade Tuesday afternoon, but some other processors in Newfoundland and Labrador say they don't have much to cheer about.
St. Mary's Bay Fisheries was awarded a new processing licence for all species of groundfish, along with whelk and snow crab, on Tuesday. The plant will be limited to purchasing no more than 2.5 million pounds of snow crab, says the Department of Fisheries.
The plant was a site of protest earlier this month, as more than 300 residents and industry figures urged the provincial government to approve the primary processing licence.
Once the announcement was made, residents of St. Mary's and nearby communities on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula quickly organized a celebration, launching a motorcade of around 50 cars through the community.
"This is the biggest thing to happen in this town since that licence was first issued 43 years ago," St. Mary's Mayor Steve Ryan said Tuesday. "We depended on projects and make work projects, it's all gone now. There's going to be no more of that. We're going to work from here on out. They're all going to earn an honest living."
Ryan said the town had been hoping there wouldn't be a restriction on their licence, but says they will take the victory and work with the province's licensing board to change that in the future.
Minister's logic is flawed, says plant owner
Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg also approved an application from Dandy Dan's Fish Market in Argentia to purchase an additional one million pounds of snow crab for their plant.
But the remaining applications — for plants in Ramea, Bay Roberts, Codroy and O'Donnells — were all denied.
Without a licence, says the owner of Bay Roberts Seafoods, he'll have to close the plant, which employs more than 70 people in the region.
"We need this licence to survive. We need this licence to keep the lights on," plant owner Jason Russell said.
"The [processing] board recommended that we get a licence, and the minister rejected our licence.… We strongly believe his reasoning is very subjective. Therefore we're not going to accept this rejection letter."
Bragg said he denied the Bay Roberts application based on evidence from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans that suggests the snow crab stock will begin to decrease in two to four years.
He also said diverting snow crab into the plant would have a "negative impact on plant workers from other nearby facilities."
In a press release, Bragg said the approvals and rejections were difficult decisions to make and thanked the board for their recommendations.
"I've made what I feel are fair decisions which will help diversify and maximize the value of Newfoundland and Labrador's seafood industry," Bragg said in the statement. On Tuesday at the House of Assembly he told reporters he lost sleep over the decisions.
Russell said he doesn't understand the logic behind Bragg's decisions or why he would go against the recommendations of the processing board.
"If you are going to go against the board's recommendation, your reasoning has to be solid and objective. But the reasons he gave us are not," he said.
Fish, Food & Allied Workers president Keith Sullivan said he believes Bragg's decision to ignore the board's recommendations is a first for a provincial fisheries minister.
"I think it goes to show that the minister is not really understanding the level of frustration and problems out there in the industry with the lack of competition," Sullivan said.
"The minister has really limited what is done, and it's to protect the CEOs and the profits for the large companies more than anything.… The panel probably did a very robust review of the situation. Things have changed since last year, but the minister just decided to largely ignore that."