Nfld. & Labrador

Cod, the saviour: Twillingate shrimp workers hope plant will reopen — at some point

It's a closure for the shrimp plant in Twillingate this season, but workers don't want to believe that it's permanent.

'If anything changes or the cod increases ... [Notre Dame Seafoods] said they would be opening again'

John Hynes, a union leader at the Twillingate plant, doesn't believe the closure will be permanent. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

A union leader at the shuttered shrimp processing plant in Twillingate is "shocked" that the facility isn't opening this season, but is defiant at the suggestion the doors won't ever open again. 

"This is a seasonal closure right now. If anything changes or the cod increases ... [Notre Dame Seafoods] said they would be opening again if they could," says John Hynes, vice-president of the union local at the plant.

Hynes said while he isn't giving up, he admitted Wednesday's announcement was a major blow. 

"I was even shocked myself. I know there was a big cut in the shrimp, but I still figured that she would be opening," he said. 

Hynes says quota cuts are to blame for the plant not opening this year. (CBC)

Quota cuts, and not lingering sea ice, are blamed for the plant not opening this season. In a news release Wednesday, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers referred to the closure repeatedly as "permanent." Calls to Notre Dame Seafood were not returned Thursday.

Cod to the rescue?

Hynes said uncertainty had been looming since March, before the axe finally fell. 

He had high praise for Notre Dame Seafoods' president and COO Jason Eveleigh, who Hynes said was always willing to meet and talk with workers. 

Hynes said shrimp may likely be the plant's past, but cod could be its future.

Notre Dame Seafoods said Wednesday it will not open the Twillingate plant this year to process shrimp. (CBC)

"It seems like they're hoping that the save thing is the codfish, but that's not right now. The codfish is not out there yet, but hopefully it can be," he said. 

Processing new fish would also require upgrades at the facility, according to Hynes.

"You cannot process anything only shrimp, but Jason Eveleigh said he was willing to come in and change, if he had to change, if the codfish would increase enough," said Hynes.

'Trying to make a little bit of money'

On Thursday, the provincial government said support is available under the Integrated Transition Framework for Displaced Plant Workers.

There is also a meeting on the future of the shrimp plant that will include the Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources, Steve Crocker, Lewisporte-Twillingate MHA Derek Bennett and representatives of Notre Dame Seafoods.

In the meantime, the stark reality of the plant not opening this season looms large for the 100 affected workers, their families and the town in general. 

Llewelyn Pelley, a plant worker, worries he won't have enough hours logged to qualify for employment insurance benefits. He usually has 300 logged by this point in the season. 

Llewelyn Pelley says he normally has 300 hours of work by this time of the year. He says he has barely any right now and worries he won't qualify for EI benefits. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

"This year, I haven't got hardly anything and with the plant not opening up, that means a lot more cut back on me," he said.

He will look for other work while the processing plant sits idle.

"Trying my best, doing knick-knack odd jobs for people, trying to make a a little bit of money. That's about it," Pelley said.

With files from Melissa Tobin and Anna Delaney