Nfld. & Labrador

Twillingate fishery stuck in ice, shrimp plant future uncertain

A harbour-load of sea ice is stopping boats from coming or going at Twillingate's wharf. It may also be the reason why there's no word yet on the town's shrimp plant.

No boats coming and going through ice-filled harbour

Ice has started to break up near the wharf in Twillingate, but it could take another couple of weeks before boats could come and go freely. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

A pair of dark clouds loom over the fishery in Twillingate, and good weather might improve only one of them.

Long-lasting sea ice has put a chill on traffic at the town's wharf, meaning less work for dockhands and a slump at the town's grocery stores. That ice might also be part of the reason why plant workers are still searching for answers about their shrimp processor.

The town hasn't seen ice last this long for decades, according to Gord Noseworthy, mayor and harbour master. It means many boats can't get out of Twillingate, and those that do aren't coming back to the wharf.

Nobody is telling you anything, the bay is full of ice, shrimp cuts. So it's all negative.- John Hynes- John Hynes

"You look up there right now you can see one tractor trailer, and that one tractor trailer now is probably empty," he said Wednesday.

"This time last year, where all your boats is coming and going, you looked up there and there was eight and nine tractor trailers out there at a time, all taking full loads and going."

Stores feel pinch

Some small boats are able to sneak out of the harbour westward, but those valuable 65-footers left town when the ice was broken earlier in the season, and took their catches with them.

Some local fishermen are landing their product in neighbouring communities. Noseworthy said with no boats to unload, local wharf workers have been sitting on their hands for weeks. 

Mayor Gord Noseworthy said pack ice hasn't blocked off his harbour for this long since the 1970s. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The town's grocery stores, oil companies and liquor store have also been feeling the pinch, he said, with no one looking to fuel up for long trips at sea.

"One hundred, 150 boats when this is full, coming and going all the time ... they're in here buying groceries and everything else, their sales are fantastic," said Noseworthy. "And they don't eat Kraft Dinner."

Shrimp uncertainty

The sea ice might have taken a considerable chunk out of the fishing season, but it will eventually leave. Noseworthy said the future of the shrimp plant is not so certain.

The plant has not opened for the season. Both the town council and local workers are looking for meetings with the owners, Notre Dame Seafoods. So far, there's little sign of life on the ground, according to John Hynes, a local union leader.

He said engineers and maintenance workers are usually in the plant in January to prepare it for processing in May. But no one is in the plant yet, and that's a bad sign.

John Hynes, a union representative for workers at Notre Dame Seafoods, says the plant is normally processing by May. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"There it is now, June month tomorrow, and nothing happening," he said. "Nobody is telling you anything, the bay is full of ice, shrimp cuts. So it's all negative."

Hynes said he feels the plant would be in the same situation even if the ice was clear.

Notre Dame Seafoods did not respond to requests for an interview.

An Ice report created by the federal government for May 31. The ice concentration is worst off of Labrador, White Bay and Notre Dame Bay. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Hynes said the town should spend more time on the fishery and less thinking about tourism, which "is not going to cut it" year round.

He added the provincial government and the Fish Food and Allied Workers union are overly focused on the return of cod, which he says aren't back yet.

"I mean, you've got to fight for shellfish too."

Too late?

Noseworthy said it's still too early to write off the fishing season, as winds could push the ice away from the harbour in a manner of weeks.

It's not a crisis yet. But between the fish plant and the wharf workers, some 200 people who would normally be working in the spring aren't at their jobs.

If things don't improve, Twillingate's town council may have to go looking for government assistance.

"It's not the way to live, but make-work projects, [they will] qualify for their unemployment," said Noseworthy.

That kind of work isn't appealing to Hynes, who said those projects offer few hours and low wages.

"Don't people think that these projects are something big, because it's not. And there's nobody around here wants it," he said. "Not plant workers, not labourers, nobody."