Nfld. & Labrador

All in on cod: Icewater Seafoods bets its future on the iconic fish

The Family-owned Arnold's Cove company is spending $10 million on the latest cod-processing technology and claims to be the only processor in North America dedicated full-time to Atlantic cod production.

Arnold's Cove company investing $10M in high-tech plant

It's all about supply for Icewater Seafoods. The company's CEO said they would more than double production if the cod were available. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

The president and CEO of Icewater Seafoods in Arnold's Cove wants more cod.

"I can sell it, we can produce it, we just need more raw material," Alberto Wareham told CBC News.

He said his company is investing $10 million over three years to buy the latest cod-processing technology, and claims Icewater is the only North American processor dedicated full-time to Atlantic cod production.

I can sell it, we can produce it,  we just need more raw material.- Alberto Wareham

Seventy-five per cent of the $10 million is coming in the form of conditionally repayable loans from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Atlantic Fisheries Fund.

The money is being used to buy equipment from Germany and Iceland, including a heading, filleting and skinning machine, as well as new equipment to make slush ice for fish harvesters.

Machines from Iceland process cod in four minutes. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

Once the cod enters the processing line, it can be deboned and processed in just four minutes with the latest purchase from Iceland, the $1.6-million FleXicut, which uses X-ray technology, said Wareham.

Cod fillets pass through the FleXicut, which is more efficient than manual deboning. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

Wareham said 99.8 per cent of the fish is used, ending up as fillets, fish sticks or pet food.

Plant workers examine every piece of fish for bones and parasites. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

Last year Icewater Seafoods processed 5,000 tonnes of cod, though the plant has the capacity to produce more than 11,000 tonnes, and Wareham is banking on the recovery of the northern cod stock.

While cod biomass has increased significantly since the moratorium in 1992, it's still in Fisheries and Oceans Canada's "critical" zone.

European consumers have a growing appetite for Newfoundland cod. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

In order to sell critical-zone product into European markets, Icewater Seafoods and other processors are taking part in the Northern Cod Fisheries Improvement Project, which monitors the fish's migratory patterns and behaviour through an underwater acoustic tracking and tagging.

Having the cod fishery certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council is the ultimate goal.

A family affair

Wareham says the company — a family business that began in nearby Harbour Buffett in 1823 — is all in on cod.

Wareham says the greatest challenge he faces is obtaining enough cod to have his plant at full capacity. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

"I'm the seventh generation of our family and the eighth generation just joined. It's all we know, I guess. We're in the cod business. When other plants focused on crab or shrimp, we stuck with cod."

The company, which has a staff of 215 people, has focused on cod production since 1979, even through the moratorium years, buying fish from other countries when there was no local fish.

"We say we have 215 cod experts here. They don't know nothing about shrimp, they don't know nothing about crab, but they know a lot about cod. We're sort of all in on cod and we see a future in the cod."

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About the Author

Todd O'Brien

CBC News

Todd O'Brien is a journalist working with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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