Co-operation needed in Atlantic Canadian fishery for its survival

By Tammy Scott-Wallace

GEORGETOWN, P.E.I — Until the bickering ends and a spirit of co-operation triumphs within the Atlantic Canadian fishing industry, success in the global market will be limited, said a lobster fisherman from Tignish, P.E.I.

“We’re always competing. We’re always after each other,” said Francis Morrissey, also the general manager of Tignish Fisheries Co-operative Association Ltd.
“We have to change the way we’re doing things right now or we’re not going to survive.”
Morrissey was a speaker during the Oct. 3 to 5 Georgetown Conference in P.E.I., intended to re-energize rural Atlantic Canadians through networking and the sharing of ideas and success stories to ensure long-term prosperity.
His co-operative of 190 fishers from his region, which started in 1925, owns Royal Star Foods Ltd., a seafood processing plant that employs about 340 people at peak times in his remote region and is known worldwide for its quality products.
Morrissey said in Atlantic Canada’s four provinces too little promotion of its quality product is done, and too much fighting with neighbouring fishers over pricing and licensing.
He insists until those people in the business on the East Coast stop protecting their individual interests and start looking at the bigger picture for success, potential in the big markets like Korea, Japan and Europe where this region’s product is in craved will not be reached.
“We have an excellent product and we have to do a better job telling people about it. We have to co-operate … and we have to raise our profile,” Morrissey said. “We as an industry have a responsibility to start marketing our product.”
He suggests fishers across Atlantic Canada contribute a small dollar amount to create a large pot of money that could be used to help push the product globally. He believes the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency could then be asked to match those funds for a bigger punch on the world stage.
“We can all stand on the wharf and growl and swear, but what are we doing to do as an industry to move it forward? Let’s do something ourselves to promote our industry,” Morrissey said. “We have a natural resource that is very healthy, which the rest of the world doesn’t have.
“We have the most sustainable fishery in the world and no one knows about it.”
Across the world the fishery is largely exhausted, Morrissey stressed.
“We eat turkey at Christmas. In other countries they want to be eating lobster,” he said.
On every product that leaves the Tignish plant a Canadian flag sticker consumes front and center. In other countries that represents clean waters, clean facilities, clean fishing boats … and clean product from a country buyers feel an affection for, particularly in Europe, he explained.
“We have all this going for us yet we still don’t market it,” Morrissey said. “These countries will pay a touch more for product that has a Canadian flag on it – when they see the Canadian flag they associate that with clean, healthy, safe food.”
An Atlantic Canadian stamp, showing the unity of the fishery on the east coast, would be even more significant to branding the product caught by fishermen in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, he suggested to the crowd of people who collected to hear his words from all the provinces. A universal stamp could be developed, following universal rules and regulations across the provinces.
Those people who collected suggested a youth program, like agriculture has with 4-H, needs to be considered for future fishermen to get involved early to allow the fishery to prosper. Others pointed out the money spent on marketing agriculture in Atlantic Canada – both by the industry and government – compared to the fishery, as a reason for the declining industry.
“The fishery can help keep our rural communities alive,” Morrissey said, “and when people in rural communities do well, urban areas do well. You can’t buy a car in Tignish.”
In Morrissey’s community, the fishermen stay committed to the co-operative despite turbulence over the years in the industry, and from that commitment has given work to not only the fishers themselves, but rural residents who work in the processing plant that runs 24 hours a day.
“Without us in our community we wouldn’t have a community,” Morrissey told a church-full of people who gathered for a builders’ circle inside a Georgetown church as part of the conference.
“The fisheries have sustained Tignish for 200 years, and it will continue to be there if we take care of it.”
Like other seafood processing companies in Atlantic Canada, including New Brunswick, Morrissey ships his fishermen’s product all over the world.
“The fishery is not all doom and gloom. The fishery has been very good to us for a lot of years,” he said. “Even in the downturn, there’s always a silver lining.”
He said statistics show more people are eating lobster than ever before, and along the eastern seaboard the annual lobster catch alone has grown from 112 million pounds of lobster to 320 million pounds a year.Tammy Scott-Wallace is an editor for Brunswick News Inc. She wrote from the Georgetown Conference as part of Newspapers Atlantic.