The Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association (the NAIA) will mark an important milestone in its history this month as it hosts the 20th annual Cold Harvest Conference and Trade Show in Gander from February 19 to 21.
The theme of this year’s conference is Reflecting On The Past, Embracing The Future.
Cyr Couturier, the Executive Director of the NAIA, said that the conference will give participants a great opportunity to look back at the association’s successes over the last 20 years and to discuss the future of the aquaculture industry.
The NAIA has seen great commercial success especially in the last 10 to 12 years with a number of major aquaculture companies such as Cooke Aquaculture, Northern Harvest Sea Farms and Gray Aquaculture having operations in the Coast of Bays.
Couturier said, “The aquaculture industry is coming of age in this province, and this conference will present a great opportunity to look at an historical overview of the last 20 years.
“The industry is more mature now and is commercially successful. The reality is that the industry is a key part of the economic activity in the Coast of Bays, and other areas, and can be, well into the future.”
In 2011, the Newfoundland and Labrador aquaculture industry continued to grow in terms of production and market value. Production rose 12.4 percent, from 15,360 tonnes in 2010 to 17,264 tonnes in 2011. This growth was facilitated by the continued expansion of the slamonid sector and a rebounding mussel sector. The total market value increased from $118 million in 2010 to $120 million in 2011.
Despite the commercial success, however, the industry still has some growing pains.
“We still have some fish health issues, “ Couturier said, “ and we also have infrastructure matters to deal with although we have made improvements in this area.
“One of the key concerns moving forward will be in the socio-economic area in that a labour supply will be a problem down the road.
“The average age in the processing sector now is about 56 and getting people to work in this area of the industry is going to be a tricky issue for the future. We have to seriously look at this and wrap our heads around the problem sooner rather than later.”
Couturier said that although some people say the industry is expanding too rapidly, the reality is that the growth of the industry over the past few years has been fairly measured.
“We will see only about a 10 percent increase in production in 2012 from 2011 so the growth hasn’t been unmanageable or crazy.
“Another criticism I’d like to address is that many people seem to think that the industry has grown with the help of major amounts of grants from the provincial government.
“All of the money from government has been in the form of equity loans which have to be paid back by the companies. If a company doesn’t pay the money back, the government has the right to sell off a part of the crop to recoup the funding.
“So, this industry hasn’t come this far just on government grants or handouts as many people may think. Overall, aquaculture has a bright future in Newfoundland and Labrador and we look forward to growing our future together with all stakeholders.”