‘What about that fish plant, b’y?’

James
James McLeod
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Premier Kathy Dunderdale watches as Fogo fish plant worker Derrick Snow processes a sea cucumber Thursday afternoon. Sea cucumbers have provided extra weeks of work for the fish plant workers in Fogo. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

Premier Kathy Dunderdale saw plenty of exciting things on Fogo and Change Islands Thursday, but ultimately it was a marginal fish plant that gave her the greatest pause.

In the Change Islands school gymnasium — which has about 25 students in K-12 — Dunderdale was asked directly by a member of the community, “What about that fish plant, b’y?”

Earlier in the day she had toured another fish plant in Fogo, where sea cucumbers are being processed for added weeks of production. But in Change Islands, the outlook is more bleak.

The plant struggles to be viable and workers struggle to get enough weeks of employment to qualify for EI.

“We walked away from subsidizing plants for a very good reason. You know, we can’t keep dozens and dozens of plants going if there’s not a good business plan,” Dunderdale told the community.

“We’ve got too many people chasing too few fish, and these plants are going to collapse and fail because they’re not on sound economic models.”

She said the PC government tried to fix the fishery with its raw materials sharing plan, but got raked over the coals for it.

“We needed a police escort in and out of the House of Assembly,” she recalled.

“But the minute the market starts to take care of the issue and close plants, people come to the government and say, ‘What are you going to do about it?’”

The Liberals —including former MHA Danny Dumaresque, who is running in the district covered by Change Islands — have been critical of the government’s record on the fishery.

At its core, Dunderdale said politics is the problem.

“The time for foolishness and everybody’s separate agendas has got to stop. We’ve all got to come together, sit down at the table and find the solutions that work,” she said. 

“Everybody had better get over it — and needs to get over it — and we’ve got to come together and get this industry on its feet.”

Outside the school as everyone was leaving, Kevin Ledrew — who had asked the question about the plant — said he’s been living in Change Islands for 47 years, fished for 30 years and worked in Fort McMurray for five years.

He said he never wants to go back to Alberta.

“I’m here until the lights go out,” he said.

“This is a sin, to watch this place just go down.”

But later in the day, in an interview with The Telegram, Dunderdale said it might not be possible to save the plant.

“There may not be a future for the Change Islands fish plant, and that’s the harsh reality of it. But we’ve got to sit and we’ve got to see if that’s the case. There might be some innovation that we can use,” she said.

“The bottom line is we’re not going to find solutions for every plant because we have overcapacity. We have too many people.”

Earlier in the day, Dunderdale was on neighbouring Fogo Island, where she observed the sea cucumbers being processed, and got a tour of a luxury hotel being built by millionaire Zita Cobb.

Cobb said she’s had a great time working with the government to create an artistic retreat on Fogo.

“I think we’ve got a wonderful relationship with the government,” she said.

“Early on, when we first started the project, we spent a lot of time in St. John’s explaining what we wanted to do, and what the dream was.”

Dunderdale praised Cobb’s work.

The unique architectural studios being built on Fogo are attracting attention from international media, and bringing artists to the island.

Organizations: Change Islands school

Geographic location: Fogo Island, Change Islands, Fort McMurray Alberta

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  • Christopher Chafe
    September 25, 2011 - 13:19

    "Outside the school as everyone was leaving, Kevin Ledrew — who had asked the question about the plant — said he’s been living in Change Islands for 47 years, fished for 30 years and worked in Fort McMurray for five years. He said he never wants to go back to Alberta. “I’m here until the lights go out,” he said. “This is a sin, to watch this place just go down.”" A sad example of what is truly wrong with province.....An individual would rather take a welfare cheque instead of trying to control his future by working.

  • Time for Change
    September 25, 2011 - 09:51

    I hope this article is an eye opener to all the people in The Isles of Notre Dame. Once again Rural Newfoundland will be left hung out to dry. So typical of the Tory government!! The all got elected on the coat tails of Danny Williams but Danny is no more. Dunderdale is no comparison! The only people that should be left out to dry on election day is all the Tory MHA's themselves.

    • Change to what
      September 25, 2011 - 17:50

      You must mean change to the NDP since the Liberals are talking about going back to the old ways - promise everything and deliver nothing.

  • something fishy
    September 25, 2011 - 08:08

    ....who really owns Fogo Island Co-Op plant anyway....do they still have all the Government guaranteed loans....and the off shore shrimp quota from the Feds....talk about giving a plant an unfair advantage....but they live on an Island, that is why Government treat them special....they forget we all live on an Island in Newfoundland.....

  • joe simms
    September 25, 2011 - 07:08

    go to trade school and come to alberta you will never have to worry about getting your stamps again.

    • Loretta Smith
      September 27, 2011 - 20:09

      We outboard communities are like families. We never want to move away from the people we care about. The government should call a meeting and put more effort into trying to get a bit of money from the budget and send so much to little outboard communities. and as to praising up Zita Cobbs, she made a deal with someone from change islands and they never seen a penny she said in the deal. So someone needs to smarten up and look at what needs to be done

  • Casey
    September 24, 2011 - 16:10

    Fighting amongst yourselves will not fix NL's fishery. Unless NAFO is forced to adhere to stict rules, they will continue to allow it's members to fish offshore at will. There is no point in shutting down the fishery inshore while foreigners continue to fish the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap. Ottawa is allowing this to happen, knowing full well the effect. NAFO is headquartered in Dartmouth, NS. Why didn't they set up shop in St. John's?

  • Maurice E. Adams
    September 24, 2011 - 15:35

    It can take up to 1000 times as much capital to create a fishing industry job in the large boat sector than in the small boat sector, the large boat sector is less efficient than the small boat sector in terms of investment versus catch rate and in terms of ecologically/environmentally sustainable ------- yet all you hear from the provincial government is rationalization of the very sector that should be supported and grown. This government has no vision for the inshore/nearshore sector, for onshore processing --- and in turn, for rural NL.

  • Carl
    September 24, 2011 - 13:11

    Good for Dunderdale for giving an honest and realistic answer - You don't get that from too many politicians. She just won my vote.