Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne has told The Gulf News his plans to ensure the province’s Fish Inspection Act and regulations are adhered to include not only hiring more inspectors at Port aux Basques, but his “long-term objective” is to build a drive-through inspection facility in the town.
Hiring more inspectors would help ensure both live and frozen product leaving the province are in impeccable condition and that minimum processing and other requirements under the Act are adhered to, according to Byrne.
“Port aux Basques is a natural funnel of activity where we could indeed be maximizing our fish inspection presence,” the minister said, noting that almost all live seafood that leaves the province goes through the Marine Atlantic Terminal in Port aux Basques. “And as well, it’s a natural area for inspections for frozen and larger volumes of processed seafood from the point of view of minimum processing requirements.”
Byrne was appointed minister of Fisheries and Land Resources on July 31, 2017.
Since that time, he has been looking at ways to improve the quality and value of seafood products.
“It has come to my glaring attention that our fisheries inspectors are the sharp end of the spear in promoting safe, reliable, quality seafood going to market... these are the folks that ensure that regulations for minimum processing requirements are adhered to and, overall, do inspections on the good order and quality of the industry,” he said.
Port aux Basques – often referred to as the gateway to Newfoundland – currently has only one fish inspection officer.
That inspector is both capable and competent, the minister said, and does “a phenomenal job.” However, Byrne believes more inspectors are still needed.
Any hiring done would be through the Public Service Commission, said Byrne, and employees would naturally be based in Port aux Basques.
When asked if the decision to suspend Quin-Sea’s lobster license in Southern Harbour in May due to the high mortality of the product had anything to do with his ideas on upping inspections, Byrne said that was “definitely part of the process that led me to this conclusion.”
“We cannot allow lobster to be shipped out of the province in a state which is unacceptable to the market place,” he said. “We especially cannot allow that lobster or any other product to be exported from the province if there are human health concerns.”
The minister said there are many ways to enforce regulations including the hundreds of ports of landing throughout the province as well as the dozens of plants in the province.
Byrne was clear about the important role both plant and dockside inspections have in the fishery.
“I am not suggesting that we are going to be abandoning or lessening our dockside inspections... or our plant inspections,” he noted. “But, the objective here is one hundred per cent compliance with the Fish Inspection Act and its regulations. And having a very robust capacity in Port aux Basques is the ultimate safety valve.”
In addition to hiring more fish inspectors for Port aux Basques, Byrne said, infrastructure such as a drive-through freezer plant needs to be in place for the product inspections.
Building a temperature-controlled plant is a long-term objective.
“Our first step will be to look at our internal resources for fisheries inspection and to begin a process to increase the number of officers in Port aux Basques,” he said.
The minister could not say how many inspectors will be hired or when they will be on the job.
“It’s a process that we would move on over the course of time.”