With lobster and crab quotas finished for the year, the 70-year-old Twillingate fisherman counts on the weekly cod quota to keep his independent business afloat.
“I didn’t sell either cod fish in July and (as of Aug. 11) I haven’t got one sold yet,” he said. “I was told processors are dragging their feet on purchasing cod because capelin and turbot are coming into the plants at the same time. There is a shortage of workers, also a shortage of fish tubs to hold the cod.”
But with more than 40 ground fish processing licenses in the province, Gillett wants to know why only a few are processing cod.
He’s had the option of producing heavy salt cod, but he’d be selling it without a fixed price.
“With this industry, it’s no good to be shipping stuff on open receipts,” he said.
Furthermore, Gillett is taking aim at this year’s prices. August prices are set at 83 cents for Grade A, 40 cents for Grade B, and 20 cents for Grade C.
“They should be ashamed of themselves to insult Newfoundland harvesters with such a low price while other harvesters in the world are getting well over $1 US a pound,” he said. “I will put the quality of my cod up against any fisherman in the world. It’s what happens after it leaves my hands that I have no control over.”
And given that cod landed isn’t graded on the wharf like other species such as crab and shrimp, it doesn’t always add up to top grade prices.
“I’ve had cod sitting in a tub for five days, then they give me a grade on that, it’s ridiculous,” said Gillett. “If they are going to be grading the fish, do it on the wharf, in front of me.”
According to Gillett, today’s cod troubles were 25 years in the making.
When the moratorium was announced in 1992, provincial processors lost their market for the product. With a demand still needing to be met, other international companies stepped in to fill the void.
Now that cod has been making a comeback, Gillett said the province and country have dropped the ball in reestablishing Newfoundland and Labrador’s role in cod.
“I’ve been a commercial fisherman for 50 years and I’ve never seen codfish as plentiful as it is now,” he said.
“It’s not like we didn’t have time to get markets within the last four or five years, because we knew this was coming.”
Gillett calls situations like this damaging to rural economies.
“I really don’t think the provincial and federal governments want a successful inshore fishery. It’s a form of resettlement, because in the outports, what is there other than the fishery?”
Gerry Byrne, Fisheries and Land Resources minister for the province, was not available for comment. The department provided a response stating out of the more than 40 licensed primary groundfish processors, about 13 are licensed in-province retail processors, in which they can buy from harvesters.
The department says delays in cod purchasing stems from severe ice conditions earlier in the year, which left harvesters and processors trying to catch up.
“Many processors were at capacity later than usual in processing the last catches of this year’s capelin fishery,” the department said in the released statement, which has no attribution to Byrne. “We are now hearing that most plants have finished capelin production and can now accommodate cod.”
On the marketing side of operations, the department states it continues to work closely with the provincial seafood industry to increase global awareness of all Newfoundland and Labrador’s seafood products (including cod) and actively assists industry with international market development efforts. This, according to the release, includes supporting market research and intelligence, market readiness, and in-market development.
Work with the provincial industry on incoming/outgoing trade missions and international trade events also continues, “where opportunities exist to promote the industry and its products, identify market opportunities and facilitate business between seafood companies and international seafood buyers,” according to the release. “The industry maintains long-lasting business relationships with seafood buyers in the United States, Europe and Asia.”