Thursday, June 23, 2016

Committee Transcripts highlight gulf between Union and Canadian Fish Company on North Coast fisheries issues

Prince Rupert's Canadian Fish Cannery
was a key topic for discussion during
two days of  committee hearings
in Ottawa earlier this month
Earlier this month we provided a first glimpse at some of the proceedings of a Federal Standing Committee Session in Ottawa taking a look at some issues related to the North Coast Fishing industry.

From those meetings, the transcripts of testimony offer up an interesting look at the two very different positions that currently make up the debate over the future of the Canadian Fish canning lines in Prince Rupert.

With the round of Committee hearings complete, the full range of material that was presented is now available for review on the Committee website, with transcripts of both the UFAWU-Unifor presentation, as well as a session held with Canadian Fish Vice-President Robert Morley now listed.

The union presentation took place on June 7th and featured the participation of Joy Thorkelson, Arnold Nagy and Conrad Lewis, following commentary from all three the concluding statement outlined what the Prince Rupert contingent was looking to gain from the day's appearance.

The union proposes that a public, accountable, and transparent process be set up by the department. The objective would be to enable fishermen to become economically viable once again, to return control over fishing to active fishermen, to eliminate corporate control of our commercial fisheries, and to assist communities to retain fisheries income and processing jobs. 

 We would suggest that an independent panel be formed to travel throughout our B.C. coastal communities to talk with our communities, commercial fishers, and plant workers.

The UFAWU-Unifor proposal also outlined how they would see the committee work proceed, stressing the three key platforms that they wish to see put in place for the North Coast fishery.

The work of the committee would be to evaluate the status quo in B.C.; to develop made-in-B.C. owner-operator fleet-separation policies that reflect the differing and presently existing fisheries licensing quota arrangements on the B.C. coast; to determine ways to assist active fishermen to acquire ownership of quota, and retired and non-fishing quota owners to divest themselves of quota in a practical and positive way; 

To recommend a plan and time frame for processing companies to divest themselves of quota licences, co-adventure agreements, partnership arrangements, and the like; to develop an adjacency policy for fisheries in B.C. that puts communities, local fishermen, and shoreworkers first and returns processing to rural coastal communities; 

To investigate and make recommendations on other approaches, such as having further support for first nations, licence banks, fishermen's loan boards, and policies such as having community licence banks, and, most importantly, allowing youth access to licenses, affordable quotas for generational transfers of fishing opportunities, and access to commercial fishing opportunities.

The full transcript of that appearance can be reviewed here.

Two days later on June 9th, the Committee received a presentation from Robert Morley from Canadian Fish who outlined the company perspective on the state of the North Coast fishery and the place of the company in the British Columbia industry.

You may have read media reports and heard testimony regarding Canfisco's size, ownership of licences, share of industry, and our operations. Much of what you have heard is based on misinformation, hearsay or speculation. In other cases, it's simply a fabrication to support a point of view. 

I appreciate the opportunity to give you the facts about the company and its operations. I will also give you a perspective on the economic realities of the fish-processing business in British Columbia, which actively competes within B.C. for fish supplies from fishermen, and in the marketplace for customers, both domestic and international, with an Alaskan fishery whose production vastly exceeds B.C.'s. 

Some people have claimed that Canfisco controls 80% of the herring business and 70% of the salmon business in B.C. Here are the facts. Canfisco owns 32% of the 275 salmon seine licences. We own 3 of the 1,379 salmon gillnet licences, or 0.2% of the total. We do not own any of the 440 salmon troll licences. Overall, Canfisco owns 4% of all salmon licences in B.C. Over the last six years, Canfisco has purchased between 29% and 48% of the total salmon catch in B.C., for an average share of about 37% of the total landings. 

In the B.C. herring fishery, Canfisco owns 30% of the roe herring seine licences and 12% of the roe herring gillnet licences. Canfisco buys and processes about 30% of B.C.'s total roe herring landings.

Morley also provided the committee with an overview of the Canadian Fish plan for its Prince Rupert operations, outlining some background on the issues the company has been facing through the years, particularly in the last decade

Let me turn to the issue that spawned this study: the closure of our Prince Rupert canning operations. First, let me clarify that we have not closed either of our plants in Prince Rupert. We will be operating and landing as much fish as our fleet can catch this summer and beyond. We've simply changed product forms from canned salmon to fresh and frozen salmon products. 

We have made this business decision for several reasons: changing market and consumer preferences, inconsistent fish supply, and high costs. The salmon cannery in Prince Rupert was built and expanded in the 1980s with the capacity to produce 500,000 cases of salmon per year. The intent was to process a combination of salmon caught in both northern B.C. and southeast Alaska. The actual production volume achieved that 500,000-case target only three times in its history, the last time in 1995. 

In the past 10 years, due to declining salmon landings in B.C., less imported fish from Alaska, and changing markets for salmon products, the cannery has produced 200,000 cases only once and has averaged 116,000 cases per year in that time. In 2015, we canned only 42,000 cases. Seventy per cent of that was Alaskan-caught salmon, mostly diverted from our cannery in Ketchikan, Alaska, just to provide some employment to the Prince Rupert plant—so much for the adjacency principle.

The Canadian Fish Vice-President also expanded on the views that the company has on the issues of fleet separation and adjacency that dominated much of the discussion over the course of the two days of hearings.

The full transcript can be reviewed here.

The host page for the Committee Sessions can be examined here, in addition to the transcript of testimony that included is included for each session, an opportunity to listen to the testimony is available as part of their information presentation.

On Wednesday, the Globe and Mail noted that NDP MP Fin Donnelly, a member of the committee had observed that the NDP is preparing a report from its members findings culled from the recent meetings, that document is to be delivered to Federal fisheries Minister Dominic Leblanc.

As we outlined on the blog last week, Prince Rupert City Council voted to approve a motion to write a letter to the Federal Fisheries Minister inviting Mr. Leblanc to the North Coast to discuss fishery issues with Council.

You can find more items related to the North Coast Fishery concerns from our archive page here.

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