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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 10, 2020
Shrimp fishing boats in Newfoundland and Labrador should be heading to sea by early next week as members of the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) have decided to resume production for the 2020 season.
In a press release this afternoon, ASP Executive Director Derek Butler said, “Having a shrimp fishery this year represents a financial loss to companies, but having no fishery has serious implications as well, for communities, plant workers, harvesters, the companies and for everyone involved.”
The decision by ASP means workers at the processing plant in Port au Choix, on the province’s west coast, will be returning to work after weeks of delay.
Ocean Choice International confirmed for SaltWire today, July 30, that work at the plant will resume by the middle of next week.
“Over the last several months we have been preparing the plant to open and have put in place additional COVID-19 safety protocols to ensure we would be ready to operate once the season opened,” said a company spokesperson.
One of the members of the ASP, The Labrador Fishermen's Union Shrimp Company, already started buying and processing shrimp earlier this month.
That company, which has local fish harvesters on its board of directors, decided soon after the price was settled that it would begin processing. The company buys only from the fish harvesters in Labrador who are members of that union.
Butler added ASP’s members still face challenges with the current negotiated price at $1.08 and the softening of shrimp markets due to the impact of COVID-19.
The main market for NL shrimp is in Europe, particularly Denmark and Great Britain, where the shrimp is mainly sold as ready-to-eat sandwich packs at supermarkets, said Butler.
The impact of COVID-19 is still a factor in those markets.
The fishery normally starts in May, but the COVID factor, as well as disagreements between the ASP and the Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) over prices, delayed the start.
The ASP had come to the negotiating table in June with a proposal for 70 cents a pound while the FFAW asked for $1.18. The province’s Fish Price Setting Panel chose the FFAW offer. Both sides went back to the negotiating table in early July when the ASP filed an appeal, asking the panel to review market information. The ASP increased their offer to 85 cents a pound while the FFAW dropped their ask to $1.08.
Again, the Price Setting Panel chose the FFAW proposal.
In the press release today, Butler said, “At the current price, it is challenging to operate but when weighing the potential implications of not operating this year, including the loss of market share which is extremely difficult to recover, we have to do what is right for all involved in the fishery – the workers, the harvesters, the communities and the customers.”
With that decision made fishing crews can start setting sail for the shrimp fishing grounds.
“The boats will probably be on the water by Sunday or Monday,” said Butler, “and I think all of the shrimp processors will be up and running next week.”
The processing companies, meanwhile, will be keeping a close eye on operating costs.
As an example, Butler said, there are about 25 shrimp landing sites in the province.
“We’d like to reduce that, just to reduce the collection costs on this,” he said, noting processors might designate just a dozen or so landing sites for the shrimp.
“And, where possible, harvesters will be asked to land directly to the plant, which will help reduce trucking costs,” he said.
The beginning of the summer shrimp fishery is not the end of the shrimp story for 2020.
Over the next few weeks the ASP and the FFAW will be talking prices for the fall shrimp fishery.
Negotiations will begin by the end of August, said Butler.
Early indications are there won’t be a lot of improvement in the market for shrimp going into this fall.
“I think it’s going to be just as gloomy, if not more so,” said Butler. “