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Doubts surround whether a new groundfish plant can be set up on Northern Peninsula

While the commercial cod fishery remains open till December, the coming cold weather and increasingly small fish catches has many Northern Peninsula harvesters saying the season has slowed down for the year and many will soon give it up. File photo
Many harvesters are calling for a new groundfish plant on the Great Northern Peninsula. - File photo

Processing plant prospects

NORTHERN PENINSULA, NL – While the need is increasing, there are doubts whether a new processing plant will come to the Great Northern Peninsula in the near future.

Jason Spingle, area representative for the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, says difficulties with finding buyers and processors last summer shows the potential for a groundfish plant – especially with the cod fishery back on the horizon.

“The need is there; we’re basically maxed out of capacity on what we’re bringing in versus what can be processed on any given day,” said Spingle. “Conche doesn’t have the capacity for the volumes that come in – with the Labrador Shrimp Company, they’ve identified their limitations with respect to the ferry.

“If there’s seriously a transition to more groundfish, you’re going to want to land the fish no more than a two- to three-hour truck drive to make things most feasible.”

This past summer some cod harvesters lost three weeks of prime fishing because they had no buyer to take their catch. Some St. Anthony fishers ended up striking a deal with the Labrador Shrimp Co., but a variety of issues with ferry delays and water leaks in their catch put strain on both ends. 

Jason Spingle, area representative from the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union spoke at a Dec. 6 meeting at St. Anthony’s Lion’s Club on the need for a new processing plant.
Jason Spingle, area representative from the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union spoke at a Dec. 6 meeting at St. Anthony’s Lion’s Club on the need for a new processing plant.

It was these delays and issues that had many harvesters calling for a new groundfish plant somewhere on the Great Northern Peninsula.

“It’s a job to do anything unless we have a plant or some processing in this area,” Englee fisherman Ron Patey said in a previous Northern Pen interview. “We got our fish going to Bay de Verde, and the St. Anthony crowd are sending theirs to Labrador, so where does that leave the Northern Peninsula in the future?”

But Sam Elliot, executive director for St. Anthony Basin Resources Inc. (SABRI), says without a sizeable increase in cod quota, a new plant will be tough to make economically viable.

Plant viability

Elliot attended a fisheries meeting in Gander back in late November with harvesters, processors and Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists. At the meeting Ben Davis, a manager of aquatic resources for DFO, stated it would likely be another 10 years or more before cod is at a sustainable level to extensively open up cod quotas.

“The fishery of the future is cod, or that’s what they’re all saying,” Elliot said. “If it’s 10 years out before there will be any sizeable quotas, you’re asking a company to invest in something that’s 10 years out and may not even be there then.

“There is a need for it, but with the infrastructure costs, the technology needed to compete with the marketplace out there – it’s a big, big gamble.”

Even with the current issues, Elliot feels without these quota increases to give some foundation for an expanding fishery, the risk is too great to bring a new plant to the Northern Peninsula.

Spingle estimates a plant placed anywhere from Port au Choix to St. Anthony could be economically viable if it processed around 100-150,000 pounds a day. But with that also comes the need for automation and installing the most up-to-date processing equipment.

The Northern Pen reached out to processors along the Northern Peninsula for comment, but the Barry Group Inc. in Corner Brook and Northern Light Seafoods Inc. in Main Brook have not yet responded. A representative from Clearwater Seafoods said the organization did not want to comment.

Moratorium fears

Spingle says a new processing plant would bring major benefits to the area, with increased employment and ease on harvesters and transporters, as well as the potential for better quality product with restricted travelling distances.

But the moratorium is still fresh in the minds of many, and Spingle says bringing that goal to fruition will be no easy feat.

“Everyone is cautious due to the moratorium, particularly the DFO,” said Spingle.

Elliot also suspects that fears around the moratorium have kept government from investing further. Without higher quota, better markets and a sense that Newfoundland and Labrador can compete with the world, Elliot does not expect a new plant for the region anytime soon.

“You’re competing with Norway, with fully automated plants, top product all the way through, can we beat them? I don’t know,” said Elliot. “There are solutions, but not until the quota is big enough.”


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