Questions arise about future of Souris plant

Questions are arising about the spring opening of the Ocean Choice lobster plant in Souris, P.E.I.

Questions are arising about the spring opening of the Ocean Choice lobster plant in Souris, P.E.I.

CBC News has learned the province and the federal government have been in negotiations with the company for a $20-million operating line of credit.

But as of Thursday, no one would officially confirm the plant would open in the next couple of weeks.

The Ocean Choice board of directors met Wednesday, and COO Blaine Sullivan had planned a press conference Thursday on Prince Edward Island about what a spokesperson said was to clarify questions about the future of the Souris plant. But his trip was delayed because of weather.

Allan Campbell, P.E.I.'s innovation minister, said he talked with Sullivan Thursday.

"Mr. Sullivan told me that the plant was ready to go, so I assume that if the plant is ready to go, that would involve workers working in the plant," said Campbell.

The Ocean Choice plant employs over 300 people, many of them Islanders.

It buys and processes five million pounds of Prince Edward Island lobster — that's about a quarter of the total catch for the Island.

Government help

On the issue of government help, Campbell said the province will not open up what's called the Ocean Choice agreement, which limits  government's financial assistance to all the Island's fish processors.

"The province is not interested in writing off loans," said Campbell, "with respect to this company or this sector."

Conservative opposition critic Jim Bagnall said there are doubts about the future of Ocean Choice on the Island and he's concerned about the plant workers and the fishermen who sell lobster to it.

"The issue here is not whether the plant is ready to open; the plant is ready to go, they could start tomorrow, if they have the finances," Bagnall told CBC News Thursday.

Processing lobster for the spring season begins May 2 and the only thing the company spokesperson will say is that Sullivan will be on the Island to clarify the future of the Ocean Choice plant.

Sullivan is now expected to be on Prince Edward Island early next week.