GANDER, NL - Other than Icewater Seafoods, in Arnold’s Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t well positioned for large-scale cod processing.
And Icewater president – Alberto Wareham – says a sustainable fishery is needed before progress can be made.
“Get harvesting right first and processing will follow,” he advises.
Wareham’s message followed a series of presentations at the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation (CCFI) cod conference in Gander on Wednesday, which highlighted how Norway and Iceland have streamlined production through automation that includes state-of-the art filleting equipment, x-rays to detect bones in fish, and water jet cutters to create fillet portions. This process allows production to take place based on customer orders.
Such a production line, however, is costly, with a $25-million (CAN) price tag.
However, it can increase production from 20 tonnes of fish per day to 35 tonnes.
In those countries, they’ve also created spin-off businesses, using other parts of the cod; supplying by-products for food supplements and pharmaceuticals – even cod skins are usable.
The two countries also have quick access to markets, able to ship and fly products to customers within 48-hours.
Wareham wasn’t surprised by the presentations, as Icewater Seafoods sells to the same market.
They export 90 per cent of their product into the U.K. and France; 10 per cent goes to North America.
The company also sees full utilization of the fish with cod skins being sold to the leather and pharmaceutical industry. The cod head and frame, after the tongue and cheeks have been removed, goes to the pet food industry and the mink industry
However, the difference is that Arnold’s Cove solely produces a once-frozen product, as opposed to fresh.
“The reason we are doing everything frozen is because we don’t have access to a consistent supply of superior quality product on a year-round basis,” he explained. “The biggest challenge we have is a lack of raw material.”
Wareham noted Icewater Seafoods has the capability to process 25 million pounds of fish each year.
Right now, it processes 10-million pounds annually.
“At certain times of the year we have more fish available to us than we can handle, but other times we have no production because there is no fish,” he said.
“You can’t be in and out of the fish market and expect to get competitive pricing. Customers buying fresh fish are buying 12 months of the year.”
For the province to better position itself in cod processing, Wareham says it starts on the water, with fishermen having enough quota that would allow a fishery from June until December, until the weather prevents the inshore fleets from fishing.
Then the offshore boats could provide product from January to April or May, he said.
“That’s how we see a balanced fishery,” he said. “That would give us a raw material supply 10 months of the year.”
But it could be a waiting game for processors, as scientists with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans say it could take 10 to 20 years before this province is anywhere close to a commercial cod fishery akin to pre-1992-moratorium levels.
“As a quota holder in Northern Cod we are a supporter of following science, going slow and making sure we have the resource for the future,” said Wareham.
“You don’t need new boats for fishermen and processing plants for cod if we don’t manage this stock properly.
“If we don’t focus on that first, the rest doesn’t matter.”