Sunday, June 7, 2009

No deal in sight for embattled N.L. shrimp industry

No deal in sight for embattled N.L. shrimp industryFFAW president Earle McCurdy warns the long-term future of the shrimp industry is in peril.(CBC)

Talks to broker a deal that would salvage the once-lucrative shrimp industry in Newfoundland and Labrador ended Friday without a resolution, and amid warnings that the fishery is facing permanent damage.

Processors and fisheries union negotiators met for the second day in St. John's, although the talks ended with no deal yet in sight on a price that both sides say is viable.

Many processors stopped buying shrimp earlier this week, arguing market demand is too poor in the wake of the world financial crisis.

But fishermen say they should not be forced to sell catches for prices below what it takes for them to break even.

Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, warned that without a long-term solution, the entire shrimp industry may be lost.

McCurdy said the season is compounding problems caused by a weak market for crab and a disastrous season for lobster.

"I would think our landed value for fish products this year will be down at least $100 million, compared to last year," McCurdy told CBC News on Friday.

"These are forces beyond their control. There should be some close examination, with a will to help them, in the same way that other industries have been helped when they've gone through severe difficulties," McCurdy said.

McCurdy said he has no expectation that the governing Conservatives in the federal government would do anything to help Newfoundland and Labrador, where Premier Danny Williams has been a long-time thorn in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's side.

McCurdy said he would like to see the provincial government step in with relief for fishermen who must make interest payments on their vessels. Ultimately, though, he said the solution lies in improving markets.

"What we need to do is to build the prices up, or else that fishery won't survive for the long haul," McCurdy said Thursday.

"So at the moment, it's unresolved. It's going to be a tough challenge to find a solution to this one. This is a serious problem."

Processors say the recent rise in the Canadian dollar is responsible for the latest drop in market demand.

"As I've said before, it's not about us versus the harvesters or them versus us. It's us against … the global economic crisis. And there are no obvious solutions right now," said Derek Butler, executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers.

"We haven't reached any kind of an agreement in terms of price. The price that is now in place cannot produce a fishery."

Much of the shrimp harvested off Newfoundland and Labrador is sold in the U.S. Last year, the industry had a landed value of $186 million, with about 3,000 people relying on the seasonal catch for employment.