pe-si-ocean-pride

About 300 workers at the Souris lobster plant are now out of work, one week before lobster season begins. ((CBC))

Ocean Choice International is shutting down its lobster processing facility in Souris, P.E.I., putting about 300 people, many of them Islanders, out of work.

Chief operating officer Blaine Sullivan issued a statement Monday afternoon saying the company's board of directors had decided to sell the plant, seven years after it was purchased from the now-defunct Polar Foods International.

"I regret that we have had to make this decision, " said Sullivan in the statement. "We have tried very hard to make the plant work to its maximum capacity ... ideally we would have made this announcement earlier, but we have been exploring every avenue and option we could find in an effort to keep production in the plant."

Ocean Choice invested about $20 million in the plant over the years. Some administrative staff will be kept on to set up and operate a new purchasing and distribution operation.

Souris Mayor David MacDonald said he didn't expect the closure, especially so close to the start of lobster season.

"At the present time, they would be the number one employer in the community," said MacDonald. "It's certainly not good news. It's much too late, I believe, in the year for anybody to even consider taking over the plant."

A plant at North Lake also isn't processing this year, MacDonald noted, resulting in the loss of about 120 other jobs.

The province and the federal government had been in negotiations with the company over financing.

Annually, Ocean Choice bought and processed five million pounds of Prince Edward Island lobster — about a quarter of the total catch for the Island.

Sullivan said the company would continue to buy lobster from other processors on the Island and elsewhere.

The company is hoping to find a buyer for the plant this year.

Lobster season begins May 2.