Is John Risely out to gut Ocean Choice International like a fish? By Ryan Cleary

ryan-cleary-fish-nlNova Scotian John Risley who led a hostile takeover of Fishery Products International in 2001 that led to the company’s demise and the loss of hundreds of rural jobs — appears to be attempting another such takeover.

This time of Newfoundland and Labrador-based Ocean Choice International — which bills itself as Canada’s “largest wild fish quota holder,” including highly lucrative snow crab, shrimp, scallops, cod, and turbot.

If Risley succeeds he could potentially do to OCI what he did to FPI — gut it like a fish. I say that Risley is no friend of Newfoundland and Labrador, and if he gets his hands on OCI’s quotas the Grand Banks will be sold off to the highest bidder.

That must not be allowed to happen.

Landvis Canada Inc., a Canadian subsidiary of the Icelandic company Visir, owns 49 per cent of OCI, and on Sept. 27th, Risley reportedly purchased half of the company’s ownership stake, with an option to purchase the rest.

The purchase was the latest in a string of power plays.

In January, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador dismissed a challenge by Landvis to have brothers Martin and Blaine Sullivan removed from OCI.

Landvis launched the court action in the fall of 2015, alleging that OCI was being mismanaged, with the Sullivans accused of putting their own interests ahead of the company’s.

Landvis was seeking an order from the court that would remove the Sullivans and establish a process whereby Landvis could acquire majority interests in OCI.

The claim alleged that the Sullivan brothers have hurt the company with questionable fiscal management, while pumping millions in performance bonuses into their own pockets.

Then, in April, OCI launched a lawsuit accusing Landvis of conspiring to scuttle a refinancing deal and force a sale to Clearwater Seafoods — which is owned by Risley.

The lawsuit was later dismissed, strengthening the hand of minority shareholder Landvis, over a critical refinance deal.

OCI has fish plants in Bonavista (snowcrab, turbot), Fortune (groundfish), Port Aux Choix (shrimp), St. Lawrence (crab, and groundfish), and Triton (crab).

Outside interests appear to be taking over the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.

In March, the Newfoundland and Labrador government ignored objections and approved the sale of one of the province’s largest seafood processors, Quin-Sea Fisheries Ltd., to Royal Greenland.

Quin-Sea operates a half-dozen plants in the province. It isn’t know whether the deal included any trust agreements, which effectively control harvesting quotas.

Norweigan-owned Grieg Newfoundland AS is also moving into Placentia Bay with an aquaculture project — one of the largest in Canada — that hasn’t been subject to a full environmental assessment.

If Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t careful, its once great fisheries may eventually be controlled by outside interests.

Ryan Cleary is a former Newfoundland and Labrador MP, long-time journalist, and leader of FISH-NL, a group attempting to represent the province’s fish harvesters in a break-away union from the FFAW.