It’s about time.
After a 20-year moratorium on the issuance of lobster processing licenses the gates have finally opened. Red Cove Seafood Products Inc. was issued its processing license on Wednesday.
Ironically, the license was issued to a facility at Howard’s Cove, one of the lobster plants the former Progressive Conservative government mothballed as part of a deal with Ocean Choice International, the company that handpicked some of the assets of the failed Polar Foods empire after it went bankrupt in 2004.
Government not only upheld a moratorium on new lobster processing plants that has been in place since 1994, but it cancelled licenses at former Polar plants that Ocean Choice was not prepared to operate.
The Howard’s Cove plant did continue to operate since then under various entities, but, until Wednesday, it just couldn’t process lobster and snow crab.
Already, two more applications for processing licenses are being entertained.
Island fishermen, especially those in the western end of the province, cringed at the OCI deal, because they saw it as denying them competition. Indeed, since then prices for lobster have crashed. Keep in mind, though, prices of lobster fell all along the east coast over the past decade as catches grew, so there’s more at stake here than a questionable deal with a fish processor which subsequently largely abandoned P.E.I.
There is, however, something to be said for competition. The more lobster that can be processed here the hungrier those processors will be for Island lobster, and every additional nickel or dime that gets tossed the harvesters’ way because of that demand the better it is for the fishing industry and P.E.I.’s economy.
The cherry-picking of the failed Polar Foods’ assets was a bad deal for Prince Edward Island’s lobster industry, plain and simple. Some plants were closed or restricted. Jobs were lost and opportunity went elsewhere.
But that’s all water under the bridge now.
Provincial Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ronnie MacKinley made it clear earlier this year that he was prepared to start issuing lobster licenses again, come April, and the provincial government made good on his promise on the final day of the month.
This certainly doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing long into the future for Red Cove or any other companies that get into the lobster processing industry. It’s a tough business, evident by plants that went out of business even while the moratorium was enforced.
Hopefully the new Canadian Lobster Brand that the Lobster Council of Canada is promoting will help boost demand for Canadian lobster and make plants and fishermen more viable.