'People are devastated': Clarenville shrimp plant closes, 100-plus employees out of work

A shrimp processing plant in Clarenville is not opening this year, leaving at least 100 employees of out work.
The Barry Group shrimp plant in Clarenville will not open this year. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

The Barry Group shrimp plant in Clarenville will not open this year, leaving more than 100 people out of work.

Bernice Palmer-Holloway, who has worked at the plant for 16 years, said she was informed by one of the office's administrative workers Tuesday morning. She knew as soon as she got the call what it would be about.

"I said 'You got bad news don't you?' And she said 'Yeah.' I knew, I had that feeling in my belly." 

July and August are the busiest months at the plant, according to Palmer-Holloway, and the plant should have been open by now. Last year she started her seasonal work in April. 

"[It's] very sad," she said. "For all of us that was there."

Rosalind King is an inspection worker at the Clarenville plant. She's worked there for 31 years and said everyone is stressed and worried about their futures, wondering how they will pay their bills.

"People just don't know what to say. People are devastated," she said.

"[There was] a lot of hope when LIFO was scrapped ... but when the shrimp quota was brought down, oh boy, wow, how do you deal with that?"

Running out of options

Since the plant hasn't been processing shrimp since last fall, most of the workers are close to the end of their employment insurance. Palmer-Holloway said she has four weeks left. After that, she has no income.

Terra Nova MHA Colin Holloway said the government will look at some exemptions for employment insurance. 

He was in St. John's when his Clarenville office was inundated with calls from shrimp plant employees. He headed to Clarenville immediately and met with about 30 workers Tuesday afternoon. 

"It was a surprise to me, to be honest," he said.

"Now I do recognize that there was a reduction in the shrimp quota for this year for Newfoundland and Labrador, and that it would have an impact on some communities, but it was a surprise to me because I really didn't anticipate that it was going to impact the plant in Clarenville." 

Terra Nova MHA Colin Holloway. (CBC)

Holloway said he sensed a lot of desperation during his meeting with employees who are now out of a job.

He said he's been in touch with government departments and is planning another meeting Thursday afternoon with town councils, ministers and hopefully a representative from Barry Group to discuss possible solutions.

"The message very clearly from all those ministers was, you know, as a government, we'll do whatever we can to support these workers and try to find a solution I think that meets their needs and their situation."

What's next?

Palmer-Holloway, who is 43, estimated there are only half a dozen workers her age or younger. 

"How about the people that are older than me, what do they do?" 

She said she loved her job at the plant and that there was a real sense of community there.

"Everyone got along," she said. "And that's the fun of it."

Despite it all, Palmer-Holloway remains hopeful. She said you have to have a positive attitude.

"It's no good to sit down and just cry about it," she said. "I just hope that there's a job out there for everybody."   

With files from Jane Adey