Nfld. & Labrador

Harbour Breton fish plant workers concerned for the future after Northern Harvest fish die-off

Longtime workers at the Barry Group fish plant in Harbour Breton are wondering how they will make ends meet after the death of a large number of fish at a farm in Fortune Bay.

Plant workers 'going through big time hell' after death of farmed fish

Gloria Pierce has worked at the fish plant in Harbour Breton for 40 years. (Chris O'Neill-Yates/CBC)

Longtime workers at the Barry Group fish plant in Harbour Breton are wondering how they will make ends meet after the death of a large number of fish at a fish farm in Fortune Bay.

The Harbour Breton plant processes salmon from Northern Harvest Sea Farms, owned by Norwegian company Mowi. But the death of potentially millions of fish has plant workers without work.

"All our jobs are probably going to be in turmoil.… All the salmon are dying," said Gloria Pierce, who has worked at the plant for 40 years.

"Bottom line is there's no work for us, not for the remainder of this year until … maybe next year in August, which is a long time."

This is all we know, this is my life here. It's been 40 years of my life here.- Gloria Pierce

Pierce said her medical benefits are gone and it's going to be tough to afford her monthly bills while on EI.

"Am I going to have enough to survive? I'm 58 years old, my husband is 59, this is all we know, this is my life here. It's been 40 years of my life here," she said.

"What else do I know? Who's going to hire me? Where do I go?"

Pierce said other people in the community are suffering, and businesses in Harbour Breton are feeling the hit.

"If they're going through it like me, they're going through big-time hell," she said.

"How much more can this community stand?… This is the biggest hit of all, because we don't know what's coming up next.… A make-work project is not going to cut it for me."

'Worrisome for the future'

Fellow plant worker Eric Day, who has worked there since 1970, says he's never seen a situation as dire as this at the Harbour Breton plant.

"I think this is the worst, no doubt about that," he said.

"It's worrisome for the future. I don't know what kind of future's facing us here right now."

The workers at the Barry Group fish plant in Harbour Breton are out of work after the die-off of a large number of fish at Northern Harvest Sea Farms. (Chris O'Neill-Yates/CBC)

Day said Mowi and Northern Harvest Sea Farms didn't handle increased water temperatures and parasites appropriately.

"The problem is how it's managed.… I don't think it's looked after the way it should be," he said.

"Now it's to the point that the sea lice [have] really grabbed hold of the fish big time, and of course it's killing the fish."

Sea lice occur in wild fish in the ocean, but are hard to control in aquaculture because of the large number of fish in open net pens.

Day said the parasites attack the salmon's nose and head, leaving sores and eventually killing the fish. He said at one point, plant workers counted 385 sea lice on just two fish.

"Can you imagine what that fish has had to go through? Tortured."

Northern Harvest Sea Farms spokesperson Jason Card refutes the worker's claims, and says warm water, not sea lice, caused the deaths of the salmon.

"Salmon, they prefer waters between 15 and five degrees (C), and we were experiencing 18 to 21 and we experienced that for 11 to 13 days when you normally only see temperature spike for two to three days," said Card.

"That's the reason. We've had that information verified.… The sea lice, I don't know why that was raised."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Chris O'Neill-Yates and The Broadcast

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