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New deal strengthens OCI agreement for Fortune, fisheries minister says

The provincial government says a new agreement with Ocean Choice International for the company’s fish plant in Fortune improves on a previous deal reached five years ago.
The provincial government says a new agreement with Ocean Choice International for the company’s fish plant in Fortune improves on a previous deal reached five years ago.

FORTUNE, NL - Fisheries Minister Steve Crocker says a new agreement with Ocean Choice International (OCI) for the company’s fish plant in Fortune improves on a previous deal reached in December 2012. 

In a news release from the provincial government Thursday, the key improvement in the deal was identified as an employment guarantee for the workers in exchange for an exemption under the minimum processing regulations for yellowtail flounder.

The fisheries minister has the ability to cancel the agreement if OCI breaches the terms of the deal.

“The new agreement recognizes there were challenges with respect to processing the smaller-sized fish and provides the flexibility to ensure OCI’s operations are more economical,” the release states.

“This is in exchange for a four-year commitment to operate the Fortune facility for a minimum of 15 weeks per year for the workforce.”

On Wednesday, FFAW-Unifor issued a news release saying the union was “shocked and deeply disappointed” with the provincial government’s decision to issue further exemptions to OCI, allowing the company to ship yellowtail, redfish, and American plaice to countries where it could be processed cheaper.

“This decision is a slap in the face to plant workers and rural communities,” FFAW-Unifor president Keith Sullivan said.

In the provincial government’s release, Crocker said he is dismayed Sullivan doesn’t support his own union’s local executive’s request to ensure continued employment at the Fortune fish plant.

He also charged Sullivan doesn’t understand how minimum processing requirements are granted and said he failed to check the facts of the recent deal.

"I am shocked and disappointed by the reaction of the President of the FFAW-Unifor, Keith Sullivan, to the agreement reached with OCI given this agreement will ensure employment for FFAW’s own membership in Fortune,” Crocker said in the release.

“Mr. Sullivan should be aware his own union local requested and were in full support of this agreement as he was copied on the letter they sent to me in April. We met with the local union as recently as June 6 and they were fully supportive of this agreement.

“Mr. Sullivan seems to be out of touch with his own union membership, and it appears he does not want what is in the best interests of Fortune fish plant workers. I cannot comprehend how Mr. Sullivan would speak out against his own members in this way."

The new agreement was reached with full consensus of the FFAW-Unifor Local 1252 and the Town of Fortune, the provincial government release states.

The new deal

The provincial government sought to provide some facts about the OCI deal and clear up some of the claims the FFAW-Unifor made in its release.

It was noted the fisheries minister may grant exemptions when it makes sense to do so in cases when it provides optimal benefits to the province.

Meanwhile, an exemption is in place for yellowtail flounder and it has to be offered to local processors prior to export. There is no change to exemptions on American plaice or redfish in the new agreement.

As well, the minister of Fisheries and Land Resources has the legislative authority to exempt processors from the minimum processing requirements, not the premier, as was incorrectly stated in a recent FFAW-Unifor news release.

The provincial government release indicates the new deal supports increased utilization of the yellowtail resource, which is considered healthy, but total landings have not been close to the total allowable catch in some time.

The only viable option for the yellowtail flounder resource was frozen-at-sea production, the release added, and without the agreement, there would be continued challenges with utilizing the resource.

More than 100 workers have been involved annually in harvesting yellowtail flounder.

OCI investing in Fortune

OCI also issued a news release on Thursday about the agreement and announcing a $1-million investment in the Fortune plant.

Blaine Sullivan, the company’s chief operating officer, said he is glad to see government, industry and community leaders working together to find solutions that benefit people and the communities of the province.

“With respect to our plans for the Fortune operation, we are pleased to have the full support of the local FFAW the workers and the Town of Fortune as we secure the future of the plant in Fortune,” he said.

“We also appreciate the engagement of the provincial government and the local MHAs in working through a solution that provides a good future for the employees in Fortune and the year-round fishers on our vessels.”

Local union executives at the Fortune facility said they have been in negotiation with the company since last fall and are pleased to find a solution that creates stability for the plant and workers for the next four years.

The OCI release did not specify exactly how the $1 million would be invested. 

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