Nfld. & Labrador

Sale of Marystown shipyard raises hopes for aquaculture growth, job creation

There's growing optimism in Marystown following the conclusion of a deal that will see the dormant shipyard transformed into a service hub for the growing aquaculture industry.

New owners say they'll invest tens of millions to transform dormant yard into aquaculture service hub

Norwegian Bjorn Apeland, left, and St. John's business owner Paul Antle are the faces behind a company called Marbase, which has purchased the dormant Marystown shipyard. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

There's growing optimism on the Burin Peninsula following the successful conclusion of a complex deal that will see the dormant Marystown shipyard transformed into a service hub for the growing aquaculture industry.

"We're very excited today. It's a new beginning," union leader Rick Farrell, president of Unifor Local 20, told reporters following the announcement at the annual acquaculture conference in St. John's on Thursday morning.

"Almost by default Marystown will become the centre of aquaculture for Newfoundland and Labrador, and maybe the centre of aquaculture for Canada," added a beaming Sam Synard, mayor of Marystown.

$1M sale price

A deal that was 18 months in the making has now been finalized, with a company called Marbase purchasing the Peter Kiewit and Sons Co. shipyard for a price tag of $1 million.

The new owners say they plan to invest tens of millions to stabilize the aging site and develop a full-scale service centre that will include a lumpfish hatchery to help farmers deal with sea lice infestations in their salmon sea cages.

"That is a great benefit to the environment, to the farmers, and it's needed," said Marbase partner and St. John's businessman Paul Antle.

The Marystown shipyard has been a fixture in the Burin Peninsula town for more than a half-century. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Lumpfish are widely used in Norway to feed on the lice that attach themselves to caged salmon, said Antle, and it's a natural way to avoid the use of pesticides and other mechanical techniques for delousing fish.

Environmental cleanup

When fully operational in two to three years, Antle says, the facility will employ between 150 and 300 people and offer a range of services such as net cleaning, cage construction, waste management, feed systems, boat repair and robotics.

It will be the first aquaculture service centre of its kind in the country, said Antle.

"The aquaculture industry in this province cannot grow unless the service capacity of our businesses grow. And that's what we intend to do," said Antle.

The shipyard was established in the mid-1960s by the provincial government and operated as a Crown asset for two decades before it was privatized.

Antle speaks Thursday with, from left, Unifor Local 20 union leaders Rick Farrell and John Farrell, and Marystown Mayor Sam Synard. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

It has changed hands several times over the years, and has been idle for four years. It was last used to build a module for the Hebron oil platform, with up to 1,500 workers on site.

In order to seal the deal, the provincial government has agreed to spend $1.5 million to carry out an environmental cleanup of contaminants that date back to the days when the yard was government-owned. Government has previously spent more than $7 million to clean up the site.

"We're going to clean up this site so there's no concern about the fish that will be growing in sea cages," said Premier Dwight Ball.

Much-needed employment

The deal is big news for the Burin Peninsula because it coincides with construction of the largest fish hatchery in the world in Marystown, which is part of the massive $250-million Grieg NL aquaculture project.

And it comes at a time with trades workers in the area are struggling to find work.

"We want consistency. And if we can get a job going forward in the aquaculture industry … with 200 workers, that would be fantastic," said Farrell.

The union and the company signed a four-year collective agreement late last year that will pay workers hourly wages of $17 to $28, with a full range of benefits.

Synard, meanwhile, said Grieg has already invested roughly $40 million into its aquaculture project, and he's very happy that business leaders like Antle and his Norwegian partner, Bjorn Apeland, have joined the industry.

Synard called Apeland a "poster boy" for aquaculture throughout the world, and he's excited that much-needed jobs will be created in the town.

As for next steps, the provincial government will begin site remediation and soon as possible, said the premier, and the company plans to begin redeveloping the yard sometime next year.

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About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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