British Columbia

'We haven't even had a full week': fisheries workers in Prince Rupert struggling to make ends meet

With salmon and halibut returns low and canning operations shut down, longtime employees of a fish-processing plant in Prince Rupert are having to look elsewhere for work.

Low salmon returns and shutdown of canning operations create bleak outlook for industry

Canfisco closed its Prince Rupert canning operations in November 2015. (Francesca Bianco)

When Canfisco shut down its canning operations in Prince Rupert two years ago, hundreds of workers lost their jobs.

Now, dwindling fish stocks mean those who are left are struggling to get enough work in the coastal city.

"There's not a lot of fish," said Karen Morgan, a tally person at Canfisco.

"There used to be an abundance of pinks. We never thought they would go away, and they're going away. And there's hardly any sockeye at all."

In fact, the 2017 Skeena River sockeye run is on its way to being the worst on record.

Low sockeye returns are having a devastating impact on the northwest B.C. economy. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

That, combined with the lack of canning operations, means many people who used to work full time during the summer are having to find other jobs.

June Aster is one of the fish processing workers receiving fewer hours.

"It sucks. There's not enough work," she said.

"We haven't even had a full week. Usually, we are working super steady and getting a lot of overtime, but we've only had sporadic days here and there."

Aster said losing the canning operations has been a major blow.

Prince Rupert's Canfisco plant closure in 2015 resulted in the loss of 500 jobs. (Francesca Bianco)

"It's going to be really tight for a lot of people. The few people who are left can't make the hours for EI anymore. When we had canning, we had all the hours we needed," she said.

'A dying industry': worker

When canning operations were shut down, Canfisco vice president Rob Morley blamed changing market forces.

"Consumers don't want fish in a can. They want it fresh," he told CBC last year.

He also pointed to a decline in salmon stocks and international trade rules that make Canadian fish canning less competitive.

Neither Morley nor any other Canfisco spokesperson could be reached by deadline for comment on this year's employment rates in Prince Rupert.

Aster said she believes the days of people getting full-time, career jobs in Prince Rupert's fishing industry are over.

"It's a dying industry," she said.

However, she believes younger generations will find new ways to make a living.

"They get to go off and try new things, instead of being stuck like we were, here."