The province's new fisheries minister says talks with the European Union and industry innovation will be key areas for the department in the coming year.
Keith Hutchings became fisheries minister last week, taking over for Derrick Dalley, who had held the portfolio since Oct. 19, 2012.
Dalley was moved to the Natural Resources department in Premier Kathy Dunderdale's Cabinet shuffle last week.
Hutchings becomes the seventh fisheries minister in seven years, and the third minister in the present cabinet to hold the post.
"As the premier indicated when she made the changes to cabinet, her intent here which makes a lot of sense is to bring minister through various portfolios so they have a broad breath and scope of knowledge," Hutchings told TC Media. "Many are interconnected, as is the fishery. That allows, when you get to the cabinet table, to have very good discussion by a number of ministers that are well engaged and understand the industry."
As the former minister for Innovation, Business, and Rural Development, Hutchings was the main contact between the province and federal government on the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) being negotiated between Canada and the European Union. That agreement could have important consequences for the fishing industry of this province.
Although the province has no direct voice at the negotiation table, Hutchings says he's in favour of a reduction in tariffs on Canadian seafood exported to Europe.
"We're very hopeful in terms of the discussions we've had over the past couple years, in terms of how changes coming through CETA would benefit the fishing industry here in Newfoundland and Labrador," says Hutchings.
Hutchings says the province would also like to see the elimination of end use restrictions, which limits the amount of processing that can be done to species such as shrimp before they enter the European market.
Tariff reduction or elimination may come in return for reducing protections of Canadian industries, including the province's fishing industry, where minimum processing requirements make it a rule that certain species of fish are processed before exported out of province.
"That's all part of the discussion and negotiations we've had," he says. "At the end of the day, we'd have to seek significant changes in other areas, whether it was access to markets, end use restrictions. There's issues in regards to pharmaceuticals, agriculture, beef, intellectual property. At the end of the day, for Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly in relation of the fishery, we get access to those markets to make our industry much more competitive and get our product we have here into that lucrative market."
Two editions ago the Packet spoke to a fisherman who said he was having trouble finding a buyer for cod, and wanted the right to ship it out of province unprocessed. Hutchings says it would be too early to change requirements on processing with CETA negotiations still underway.
In the meantime, the department has asked the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation (CCFI) to explore new ways to exploit the cod resource. The potential for a cod rebound looks promising, according to Hutchings, and the industry has to be ready to exploit the resource if it happens. The CCFI's research could lead to a pilot project in the future.
"If cod were to come back and be more prevalent, and quotas were increased, are we ready at a local level to deal with that in terms of processing? What are the markets going to be? How would we prepare ourselves if that was to happen?
"It's a source of protein in the global food source in he world. It's extremely important. When we look at food security and where the opportunities are, we need to look at all our species and if we can do work to maximize species we'll do that and work with all partners to make sure that's a success."
At the 2013 World Seafood Congress in St. John's, Martin Sullivan, president of Ocean Choice International (OCI), one of the province's biggest seafood processing companies, told the audience whole fish is becoming more important than processed fish, thanks to a market shift from North America to Asia.
Hutchings says his department will have to evaluate the industry to meet the needs of the market as it changes, while ensuring the province gets the most benefit from its resource.
"We need to give the market what they need in terms of species and how that species is delivered to the market," he says. "It's got to be top quality, and we do that. It's got to be at a point in time when we maximize the return on that product, and we've got to make sure we do everything we can locally to make sure it drives our economy here."