Nfld. & Labrador

This Burin fish plant closed in 2012. Now a cannabis company has reopened the joint

Oceanic Releaf is bringing cannabis — and new jobs — to a former seafood processing facility in Burin. The company had its first harvest last week.

The facility went from processing seafood to growing marijuana

Taylor Giovannini is the president of Oceanic Releaf, a cannabis company operating a cultivation facility in the former Burin High Liner Foods seafood processing plant. (Submitted by Taylor Giovannini)

Taylor Giovannini says when she was looking for a building to house a production facility for cannabis company Oceanic Releaf, the former High Liner Foods fish plant in Burin was an natural choice.

When the seafood processing plant closed in 2012, more than 120 people lost their jobs and the area was "devastated," said Giovannini, who is originally from St. Lawrence but had been attending Memorial University in St. John's.

"It made a lot of sense to go back home, to give back to the Burin Peninsula and to revitalize that area," she said in an interview on CBC Radio's The Broadcast.

Now the plant is being converted into a cannabis cultivation centre and production facility, and already employs 20 people in the area. 

The plant is 63,000 square feet, with 15,000 square feet in use as a Health Canada-licensed cultivation facility. Giovannini said the company had its first harvest last week.

"It's been a long time coming and it was surreal," she said. "I'm still trying to pinch myself."

Oceanic Releaf has one store open in Burin and plans to open six more across Newfoundland and Labrador within the next year.

The closure of the High Liner seafood processing plant in Burin devastated the area, says Giovannini. (CBC)

While the company is focusing on Newfoundland and Labrador for now, Giovannini plans to export products as well.

"Every day is a learning day," said Giovannini.

"We have great people around us and we just have the ability with our team to just adapt and kind of move forward."

Same building, different work

Giovannini hopes to employ another 40 to 50 people within the next year, with the goal of eventually bringing back all the jobs lost in the closure of the High Liner plant.

"That's the goal. I always shoot for the sky," she said.

In its heyday, the plant was "state-of-the-art," said Giovannini. Unlike other fish plants, it operated year-round and made food for companies including McDonald's. It was a mainstay of the town's economy for 70 years.

Joy Drake, who worked at the High Liner plant for 25 years, says she never expected to one day be cultivating cannabis in the same facility.

Oceanic Releaf employs 20 people in the Burin area, according to Giovannini. (Submitted by Taylor Giovannini)

Before the plant closed, she worked as a labourer, packing fish among other things. Now she waters, cleans and trims marijuana plants. She said her time with Oceanic Releaf has been "wonderful."

"It's great to be working with people and it is a great workforce," Drake said.

She also believes the new jobs at Oceanic Releaf will have a positive impact on the town of Burin. 

"It's going to do wonders," Drake said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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