After two years of uncertainty, the Town of Harbour Breton — and the entire Connaigre Peninsula — is poised for an economic shot in the arm as the local seafood processing plant prepares to reopen this fall.
Renovations to the plant are well underway, wharf upgrades are set to begin after the Labour Day weekend, and up to 100 people are expected to begin year-round work at the plant in November, says Mayor Roy Drake.
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"Things have turned around. It looks like things are heading in the right direction," he said.
The plant was once operated by Cooke Aquaculture, but it closed two years ago after an outbreak of salmon anemia. There was further uncertainty after the Barry Group decided not to renew Cooke's lease.
Drake said it's been a tough two years for the community, with many residents leaving for work.
He said it took a collective effort between the town, the Barry Group and the provincial government to overcome the challenges.
"It took us working together, seeing the ultimate goal at the end of the day, to make this work," he said. "If we weren't on the same page, this most likely would not have happened."
New technology, fresher products
The Barry Group is investing some $3.5 million into the plant in an effort to establish a facility that produces high-quality, value added products from Atlantic salmon grown locally at aquaculture sites owned by Northern Harvest Sea Farms.
The company is installing what's called "pre-rigor" processing technology, the first of its kind in Newfoundland and Labrador's aquaculture industry.
The provincial government is chipping in with a $500,000 contribution for the plant renovation, and another $1 million to upgrade the wharf adjacent to the plant.
In a news release issued Wednesday, Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Vaughn Granter said the province's support for the project will help diversify the seafood industry, energize area communities and ensure the sustainability of the aquaculture sector.
Northern Harvest expanding production
The opening of the plant is a critical element in Northern Harvest's expansion plans for the region, Granter added.
Northern Harvest, which operates aquaculture sites in New Brunswick and on Newfoundland's south coast, is planning to increase its yearly production of salmon from 12,000 to 16,000 tonnes.
Drake said increasing processing capacity in the area means companies like Northern Harvest can also expand their aquaculture sites, which benefits both sectors.
"It's good for everybody, right from the fish farmers to the plant workers themselves, and all through the area," he said.
Northern Harvest is also growing its workforce by 35 positions, bringing the total to 180. The company is investing nearly $18 million into its south coast operations, including an $8.15 million loan from the provincial government that was announced in May.
Drake said bringing processing jobs back to the community is great news for the entire region.