The Northern Peninsula's four shrimp plants have all had good years. In Port au Choix, plant workers were still unloading shrimp last week. Pictured are: (l-r) - Tom Myers, Dalton Toope, Colin Young and Claude Coles.
By Aaron Beswick
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
Kay Mitchelmore had good reason to smile as she wrapped her hands around a mug of tea in her Green Island Cove, N.L. home.
For one, she was almost finished painting the bathroom, but more importantly she's had a good year at the plant. The NuSea Product plant in Anchor Point, like the shrimp plants in Black Duck Cove, Port au Choix and St. Anthony, had a long season. "Oh gosh yes, it's good," said Mitchelmore, who averaged 60 hours per week over 22 weeks this year. "A good year at the plant is a good year for everybody - there's more money for everybody."
The Northern Peninsula's economy is still nearly as seasonal as the fishery. So, despite the economic plague circling the wide world, the peninsula's shrimp plant workers have got their hours in and their Employment Insurance cheques guaranteed for the coming winter.
For many, that means not heading to Alberta.
The Anchor Point plant employs more than 100 people from the entire Straits area, with a similar number working at Black Duck Cove, some 200 working at St. Anthony Seafoods and 150 working at the Port au Choix plant. "There were good catch rates and the price to fishermen seemed to be decent enough to keep fishing despite the high price of fuel," said Caroline Davis, general manager of St. Anthony Seafoods, whose workers netted between 12 and 26 weeks of work depending on their seniority.
Shrimp prices this season averaged a little over 50 cents per pound, while marine diesel also soared throughout the season, costing many draggers $8,000 per trip.
But both prices are set to decline next season. While fewer people are expected to eat the expensive shellfish, they're also going to burn less fuel, thereby driving down both the price of marine diesel and the Canadian dollar. "The Canadian dollar being weak is good for exporters and so is the lowering price of fuel," said Davis. "It's impossible to predict what the next season will bring. I'm just wondering what the next two weeks will bring."
It's an uncertain industry, always has been.
George Kelly in Port au Choix has grown up with it, but many are wondering whether the province's youth want to share that future. "We've got an aging work force," said Kelly, whose fellow plant workers processed one million pound per week for 14 to 24 weeks, depending on seniority. "If they join us right out of school, they're low on the seniority list so there's not much work - not enough to stay around for."
While he admits being stumped for solutions to the equation, he doesn't expect the plant to face a labour shortage in the near future - as has happened to Prince Edward Island plants which recruit migratory labour. "From minimum wage you're looking at nearly a $5 an hour pay raise if you start at the plant. I'd switch jobs for that." (Aaron Beswick is a journalist with Transcontinental Media’s Northern Pen newspaper, which is a contributor to the Sou’Wester.)