P.E.I.’s infamous Ocean Choice deal expired earlier this month, and when it did, Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley was finally given authority to issue new seafood processing licences — even to applicants who are ineligible.
Opposition Leader Steven Myers raised concerns Tuesday about an amendment made to the Fisheries Act during a cabinet meeting on April 15.
The amendment not only allows new licences to be issued — which was disallowed for the last 10 years due to the Ocean Choice deal — it also gave MacKinley the authority to issue lobster and groundfish processing licences to an applicant even if they do not meet eligibility requirements as long as he “considers it to be in the public interest.’
Myers says he is leery of these new powers given to MacKinley.
“My questions are all about whether it’s something we should be worried about, if it’s something that could hurt the industry,” Myers said.
“Because you know how quickly one bad event could hurt the entire industry.”
But Myers also raised questions Tuesday about two applications for new processing licences that have been submitted to the department over the last two weeks.
He said he wondered whether one of those applicants may not meet eligibility requirements.
Myers also continually asked whether Island businessman Warren Ellis was one of the two applicants looking for a new processing licence.
“Is that who you changed the law for?” Myers asked.
MacKinley would not speak about the applicants.
As for why the law was changed, MacKinley said it was just to let the world know P.E.I. is open for business to anyone who may want to process lobster in P.E.I.
“The 10 years are up and we’re going to be issuing licences to anybody new who applies provided they fit the guidelines and rules and the regulations.”
One of the businesses applying for a new processing licence does, in fact, include Ellis as a company director.
A public notice was issued for an environmental impact assessment for a new seafood processing facility proposed for the Bloomfield industrial park by South Shore Seafoods Ltd.
The public notice explains the company’s proposed development would involve retrofitting the former sandwich plant located in the West Prince business park to process raw lobster.
South Shore Seafoods Ltd. already operates a processing facility, but is proposing to scale down work at the current plant and increase processing capacity in the new facility.
The company’s list of directors includes Ellis and Dewis Cooke, a former shareholder the Polar Foods International seafood processing company.
MacKinley says a committee within the department is currently reviewing the two applications for new licences.
An agreement between Ocean Choice Inc. and the provincial government prohibited the province from issuing any new lobster processing licences for the last decade as part of the company’s deal to take over the failed Polar Foods.
That agreement expired on April 14.