Update: Critics of Ocean Choice plant closures vow not to give up

Daniel MacEachern dmaceachern@thetelegram.com
Published on December 2, 2011

Ocean Choice International’s closure of two troubled plants has put more than 400 employees out of work, but critics of the decision are vowing not to give up.

Sam Synyard, the mayor of Marystown — which saw 240 jobs disappear with the announcement today by Martin Sullivan and Blaine Sullivan of Ocean Choice — said the town will try to meet with the company.

“Our hope is that we can somehow convince Ocean Choice to reverse their decision, or we can somehow find some other operator to operate that fish plant and make it viable,” he said. “It’s really hard to give up on an operation that’s been here since 1967.”

The announcement of the closure comes a week after an external audit found the Marystown plant has lost $10 million over the last three years, blamed largely on fluctuating foreign exchange rates and rising fuel costs, as well as increased expenses and overhead. Blaine Sullivan, Ocean Choice’s chief operating officer, said the company has invested millions trying to make the plant viable. “But there comes a time when we must be satisfied that we have exhausted all possibilities. And, frankly, we have,” he said.

The Port Union plant was actually closed by hurricane Igor in 2010, and hasn’t been opened since, with onerous repair costs cited. But Sullivan said declining shrimp quotas — from 174 million pounds in 2008 to 107 million pounds in 2011 — were a factor in shuttering the plant for good, putting 170 people out of work. “That’s a 40 per cent reduction,” he said. “These reductions would mean far too few weeks of work at Port Union to make the operation viable.”

Chief executive officer Martin Sullivan blamed an over-regulated provincial industry.

“We have come to the conclusion that sometimes things that are broken cannot be fixed, especially when all the critical factors are beyond our own control,” said Martin Sullivan, reading from a prepared statement. “The fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador needs to change. It has been crying out for rationalization for years. Unfortunately we — the collective we, government, union and industry — have not been able to agree on the right path forward.”

Despite the Deloitte report on the Marystown plant and the 15 months of inactivity in Port Union, today’s announcement was still a shock to the industry.

Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union that represents plant workers, said making the fishery more profitable can’t come on the backs of plant workers through process exemptions.

“It’s devastating news for 400 Newfoundland families but also for the communities — not only Marystown and Port Union but in both cases a number of surrounding communities as well,” he said. “Quite frankly, it’s not good enough to say that the best that the company can do, with privileged access to our natural resources, is to ship off all the jobs to another country, and we expect the provincial government to tell them there will be no exemptions. We expect the government to step up and play a role here. We’ve asked for a meeting with the (Fisheries) minister and also we’ll be looking for a meeting with the premier. She made a commitment to that effect during the election campaign to meet with us on the Marystown situation.”

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com, Twitter: TelegramDaniel

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Ocean Choice International president and CEO Martin Sullivan and Chief Operation Officer Blaine Sullivan announced today the permanent closures of OCI plants in Marystown and Port Union.

About 170 workers at the Port Union facility and about 240 in Marystown expected to be affected.

 

 

Martin Sullivan (left), President and CEO of Ocean Choice International, and Blaine Sullivan, chief operating officer, today announced the permanent closure of OCI plants at Marystown and Port Union during a lunch-hour newser. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram