Minister visits largest remaining cod processing plant

Rebekah Ward
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Icewater Seafoods employees work on the floor at the high-tech Arnold’s Cove production plant. — Photo by Rebekah Ward/Special to The Telegram

On Tuesday afternoon, Fisheries Minister Derrick Dalley received a private tour of the Icewater Seafoods cod processing plant in Arnold’s Cove.

The tour is the first of several visits Dalley will make to processing plants. Dalley was also accompanied by Calvin Peach, MHA for Bellevue.

“I want an opportunity, obviously, to see the work that they do, to tour the facility and to have a discussion and personally try to understand a little bit more about the cod processing that’s happening in the province,” Dalley said.

Because of government investments and signs cod stocks are recovering, Dalley has reason to care about the cod processing at Icewater Seafoods.

Cod was once the principle player in the fishery, but in recent years it has taken a backseat to other species, particularly crab and shrimp. Many plants which formerly processed cod have had to adapt to the change in the industry.

“(Icewater is) the last plant left in Newfoundland, Atlantic Canada, Canada, North America focused on cod production,” said Alberto Wareham, president and CEO of Icewater Harvesting Inc.

“We are the single largest buyer of cod in Newfoundland now, and there’s not that many other people buying it at all.”

Dalley made his appreciation of the workers at Icewater known, speaking to them as a group during their lunch break, and later stopping to talk with individuals on the cutting room floor.

“We want to hold onto plants like this one here,” Dalley said to the plant staff.

“That’s important to us, and important to me.”

The provincial government has invested money multiple times over the years to keep the cod industry afloat. It has also made several large investments in Icewater.

In April of this year, a strategic equity investment of $2 million went towards the company’s new fishing vessel. Back in 2010, the government contributed $170, 000 to state-of-the-art environmentally friendly equipment that cut the company’s operational fuel costs dramatically.

 

While most of Icewater’s competitors went under, or shifted markets, Wareham focused on upgrading the plants technology and efficiency, and searched for new markets. This kept them afloat, but in recent years even Icewater has struggled.

According to Wareham, in 2011 the company’s cod purchases were down 60 per cent from the year before.

This change did not come from a decreased number of cod in the water; the numbers have actually risen recently as the shrimp and crab resource has started to go down, prompting province-wide conversations about the revitalization of the cod industry.

But some fishermen have left the industry because they can no longer make a living.

“If you go back three, or four, or five years ago, the price of cod was 75 or 80 cents, the price of crab was $1.05, the price of shrimp was 35 or 40 cents,” Wareham said.

“Today, crab is $2 to $2.50, shrimp is 60 to 80, and cod is 50 (cents).”

This market shift has affected everyone at Icewater, but particularly the workers on the floor.

“A lot of work is pretty insecure with what’s on the go, especially with the changes to the EI and that kind of stuff,” said Melvin Lockyer, of the Fish, Food and Allied Worker’s union (FFAW).

“So it’s just making it hard for people to hang on to the fishery I guess. So much uncertainty in the fishery. After 25 years they’re picking up and leaving. (Seasonal workers at this plant) went down from 35 weeks (on average) three years ago, to 28, then 22, then last year we were 14 I think. There’s a big difference.”

The provincial government and the company’s investments make the Icewater plant viable. If it were to close however, it would be unlikely to start up again.

“The plant is like a big operating room in the sense that it’s highly automated equipment in there, it’s not what people think of as a typical fish plant. So we need technicians to run that plant. And if we can’t continue to operate, and can’t keep those technicians, we can’t reopen this plant in a year’s time, or six months time, or whatever,” Wareham said.

“I hope nothing happens to this plant,” Dalley said.

“This is a valuable plant for the province, a valuable plant in the industry right now. They’re buying from all around the province, there’s about 200 people working here, it’s important for the community.

“Right now we still have a significant shellfish fishery in this province, and there’s some slow transformation. We’re certainly not peaked in terms of the cod fishery, but as we look to the future and we see signs of recovery, that’s creating a lot more discussion, and I guess interest in what’s going to happen with the cod.”

 

rebekah.ward@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Bellevue, Icewater Harvesting

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Atlantic Canada, Arnold North America

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Recent comments

  • concerned
    August 22, 2013 - 11:08

    BUSINESS man no AK is right what do you want to put all NL behind a DESK I like to know what kind of business your in .your not in the real world.

  • Ranter
    July 11, 2013 - 05:32

    Why not visit the Fogo Island Coop Mr Dalley and see who cooperatives work and how it helped 11 communities survive against all odds. Your gov has done little to support this gem in our province. But then again, your gov only supports corporations that are buddy's.

  • a business man
    July 10, 2013 - 20:24

    Well, I will be sure to donate money to anyone and everyone who runs against Dalley. I want the fishery industry to die because I think we are too good for such a dirty and labour intensive sector. In my opinion, the last thing Newfoundland needs is politicians who hope we hold on to our fish place. I want politicians who want to see the fishery die and see our economy grow in other areas that produce office jobs for our children. So I will be donating money to those who run aginst Dalley because I want him to lose.

    • AK
      July 10, 2013 - 20:40

      The comment you have made is about the most ridiculous that i have ever read in my life. Maybe all labour intensive industries should be discontinued so everyone can work at office jobs......that makes good sense

    • Taylor
      July 10, 2013 - 22:48

      The portfolio of Fisheries (and Aquaculture) will remain. It doesn't matter if Dalley run, or wins/loses as the portfolio assignment will still be in place. Before Dalley there was King, and before him someone else....AS for labour intensive vs office jobs, buck up "Business Man," there is nothing wrong with hard work, dirty hands and an honest living. The generation being raised right now should have more fishing poles in their hands and LESS office equipment such as tablets and computers. "Give a man a fish, Teach a man to fish" = I won't go hungry when the power goes out :)

  • Dave van der Brug
    July 10, 2013 - 13:08

    I'm from Toronto and have worked in the financial industry for close to 20 years. I am firmly against any money given to private enterprise under the notion of preserving jobs. I understand the political attraction, one wants to look caring and helping out.. Also $2m spread over 200 employees paying taxes say $4000 a year require 2.5 years for public money break even. The problem is, it rewards shitty management and it assumes that no other business enterprise will enter the market where this company has failed. Its the later that is the big problem with government. By supporting and management team that is shit they make is incredibly difficult for new ideas and new management to fill the void. I am shocked that cod fish off the boat is worth $.50, whole fish goes for $5-7/pound where I live and cleaned popcorn shrimp sells for $19/pound in Montreal, as for snow crab, frozen crab sales for $16-22 a pound. Somehow there had got to be a better way for these fisherman to get their product to market. There is fair-trade for for cocoa, banana and coffee growers and there should be fair trade efforts to governments in NFLD for fisherman instead of rewarding shitty businessman.