Fish processor closing in P.E.I.

The Ocean Pride fish processing plant in North Lake, P.E.I. will not be opening this year, CBC News has learned.
The processing line at Ocean Pride, shown here in 2008, is the main employer in North Lake. ((CBC))

The Ocean Pride fish processing plant in North Lake, P.E.I. will not be opening this year, CBC News has learned.

Some senior staff were given the news this week. The plant employed about 120 workers, processing mostly herring, mackerel and lobster, in two seasons: from May to June and August to October.

Ocean Pride is owned by the LeBlanc family in Wedgeport, N.S. The company has a plant in that town as well. COO Jules LeBlanc told CBC News Wednesday the company would continue purchase fish at the wharf but will not be processing in P.E.I. Ocean Pride is the major employer in North Lake.

Until recently the plant was known as the North Lake Fishermen's Co-op, but it was bought by Ocean Pride in March 2008. The co-op had been struggling for some time before it was purchased.

Recession hits markets

Ocean Pride had plans to expand the processing line into new species, such as dogfish, but LeBlanc said the market for dogfish, a kind of shark, collapsed in the recession shortly after his company took the plant over.

Ocean Pride has no immediate plans to sell the plant. There's no government money in the facility and LeBlanc said he hasn't asked for any assistance.

The North Lake Fishermen's Co-op had been lobbying for assistance from the government, but the province said its hands were tied because of an agreement with Ocean Choice. That agreement, signed when Ocean Choice bought out the failed Polar Foods, says if the government provides assistance to any lobster processor it must provide commensurate assistance to Ocean Choice.

The company's plant in Wedgeport will continue to operate.

Leblanc said concerns about the environmental sustainability of dogfish have affected the company's ability to market the fish, but that could soon change.

LeBlanc said the Marine Stewardship Council has been studying the fish for a couple years, and he's hoping the fishery will get its MSC certification within the year.

If that happens Leblanc said it's possible the North Lake plant could open next year.