Catalina mayor wonders how much more area can take with plant, tannery closures

Published on April 9, 2012
Mayor Brendan Peters stands outside NuTan Furs in Catalina, wondering how much more his town can take. Along with the OCI closure, NuTan recently announced it wouldn't purchase seal pelts this season. There were 16 people employed at the tannery. — Photo by Adam Randell/Transcontinental Media

 "I'm 62, who's going to have me now," Manuel Faulkner says.

Faulkner is one of the employees of NuTan Furs, owned by Barry Group Inc. The company announced in March it would not be buying pelts for the Catalina tannery this season.

A call was placed to Barry group for comment, but was redirected to the NuTan office.

Dion Dakins, former plant manager, couldn't be reached before deadline. He has moved on to work for the competition, Carino Limited.

In a recent interview on CBC radio's "Fisheries Broadcast," Dakins said, "The operation is reviewing all possible avenues to make that operation viable on other species and other products."

He told host John Furlong the company he wasn't sure how many people would be displaced because of other potential employment opportunities.

"We think we can make this transition for the community and find work for all workers there, on other species or at other locations, that's currently being worked through by other management."

Faulkner is just one of the casualties associated with the shrinking seal fur market. There were 16 people employed in the tannery.

He was employed at the tannery for 14 years.

Because of shrinking markets, Faulkner admitted there was less employment in recent years, but said they weren't all bad.

Faulkner remembers when the plant operated with 30 people employed, curing somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 pelts and operating nearly year round.

As the market started to fall, so did the employment.

"Last year it took all of our time inside (where the tanning takes place) to get enough weeks to qualify (for employment insurance), and we put through between 15,000 and 30,000 pelts," he said.

"We could feel it coming, because of the activist and markets, but we didn't expect it to be this soon," he said. "Now it's a worry game."

He's concerned about what the future has in store.

At Faulkner's age, he said, it just doesn't make sense to head out west for three years to compete for jobs against 20- and 30-year-olds.

He said there are other workers in a similar situation, but there could be potential for younger workers to find employment elsewhere.

"They would probably have to head out west because there's nothing around here," he said.

Faulkner would like to see some form of assistance for the displaced workers.

"It's the same situation as the OCI closure," he said. "For the people - nearing retirement - who can't go out west, some form of government assistance is the only option."

Along with the Ocean Choice International pulling out of Trinity Bay North, and the possibility of the Catalina school closing, Mayor Brendan Peters isn't sure how much more heartache the town can take.

"It's getting worse every day," Peters said.

He said it's the hardest time the municipality has been hit.

Peters said the town is trying to meet with government to explore ways of moving forward but it's proving to be difficult.

Peters said because the town, for the most part, is single industry and has an aging work force, government has programs catered to address those issues.

However, because there aren't any meetings taking place on the provincial level, he said little headway is being made.

"The people involved with the closures are coming to us with questions, and until we get those meetings with government we don't know what to tell them," said the mayor.

"Now we've got one more thing on our plate, that's not a positive thing, and it needs to be discussed."

The provincial government stepped forward with a make work project to help displaced OCI workers earlier this year.

While Peters said it's a meagre living, he would like to see some form of assistance extended to the NuTan workers.

"It's still a part of the fishing industry and the workers are affected," he said.

Bonavista South MHA Glen Little said Monday that the provincial government empathizes with the displaced workers and is looking into means of support.

In a prepared statement issued Monday he said, "I have personally been in consultation talks with company management and stakeholders, representatives of UFCW, the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, departmental staff, and the Community Council of Trinity Bay North to look into what forms of support are available to the displaced workers."