‘They’re gone’, premier says of OCI’s hold
TIGNISH -- Premier Robert Ghiz signaled Wednesday that Newfoundland-based fish processing company Ocean Choice International no longer has any say in whether his government provides support to P.E.I. fish companies.
The P.E.I. Progressive Conservative Government had, in 2004, purchased the assets of the bankrupt Polar Foods International from Scotiabank after the lender called in the loans. The Province subsequently sold some of the assets to OCI for $4 million down and another eight million to be paid to the province over 10 years. One of the stipulations in the deal was that OCI could renege on its payments if the provincial government provided financial support to competing fish plants during the 10-year period.
But Ghiz said Wednesday he doesn’t believe those conditions apply anymore.
“Well, they have to be operating for it to be in place and they’re currently not operating in the province,” he said when asked whether the $375,000 grant his government committed Wednesday to Royal Star Foods in Tignish jeopardizes that agreement.
“From our perspective, (OCI have) deserted the province,” Ghiz said. “They’re gone, so we feel free now that companies and co-ops that are out there, such as Royal Star, that make a legitimate proposal, to support the primary industries, we’re going to look at them.”
The province is actually providing Royal Star with $800,000 to help expand the company’s cold storage capacity, but the other $475,000 is being provided in the form of a loan.
Royal Star is the first fish company to receive a grant since the OCI deal was brokered, but Ghiz hinted it might not be the last.
“We’re looking at different proposals for ones that have merit, and we know that Royal Star has been a very successful company that is expanding, that is supporting the local economy and it has been a great Island co-op,” he said.
P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association president Mike McGeoghegan welcomed the funding announcement for Royal Star Foods, calling the OCI hold “a dead horse.”
While McGeoghegan said the funding might be a sign that the doors are opening for support for other Island fish companies, he said it could be a matter of testing the waters. He said support for Royal Star Foods is particularly good in that the funds stay right in the area.