North

Hay River's fish plant in desperate need of repairs, says manager

As the Northwest Territories government moves forward with plans to build a new fish plant to help the South Slave's struggling commercial fishing industry, the existing plant manager says more should've been done to maintain the current facility.

47-year-old building has a leaky roof, peeling paint, aging equipment

Nora Twin, left, and Ricardo Fernandez-Twin grade and weigh a fish before it is packed and shipped south for processing. The Hay River, N.W.T., facility is a receiving plant, not a processing plant. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

As the Northwest Territories government moves forward with plans to build a new fish plant to help the South Slave's struggling commercial fishing industry, the existing plant manager says more should've been done to maintain the current facility.

Gordon Caudron, 59, has managed the freshwater plant in Hay River, N.W.T., for 11 years.

"It's been left in disrepair, it's so run down," said Caudron of the leaks, holes, cracked door frames and aging equipment throughout the building.

Gordon Caudron, manager of the freshwater fish plant, in his Hay River office. One window is boarded up with plywood. The other window leaks, although Caudron is not sure where the water is coming from. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

The cement building was constructed in 1971. The plant employs four seasonal workers who work up to 12-hour days, sometimes seven days a week, between June and October — the summer commercial fishery season.

The current fish plant is owned by the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp., a Crown corporation based in Winnipeg.

Freshwater leases the plant to the N.W.T Fishermen's Federation, which in turn hires Caudron to manage it.

Caudron has all the responsibility but no financial power, because he says he has no operating budget.

If the plant needs a light bulb, he pays out of pocket and gets reimbursed from Winnipeg. Repairs must go through headquarters down south in a process that he says takes months, if not years.

"It took 12 years to get the roof fixed," he said.

Getting equipment replaced isn't much different.

"It's the same old dance every time," said Cauldron. "If I need a piece of equipment they have to debate who should pay for it."

'It is the forgotten plant'

Caudron says the building's poor conditions don't hamper the volume of fish they grade and weigh, nor do the shortfalls negatively impact the quality of their product.

But he has grown increasingly frustrated by what he sees as Freshwater's failure to maintain the 47-year-old building.

The plant was built in 1971. Caudron says the building’s age is not the problem. He says his issue is that Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp. has neglected to maintain the plant, despite his repeated requests. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

"It is the forgotten plant," said Cauldron. "When [Freshwater] centralized everything in Winnipeg, they quit spending money on the maintenance and upkeep here."

CBC News has reached out to Freshwater by phone and email, but a spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the territorial government's proposed new plant is moving forward. The new site and building is part of a multimillion-dollar fish strategy being phased in by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) over the next four years.

The new plant will remain in Hay River, about a kilometre from the present site — which is currently in peak summer production, weighing and grading whitefish, lake trout, inconnu, pickerel and pike from Great Slave Lake.

Last week, ITI spokesperson Tom Colosimo told the CBC's Trailbreaker program that the plant is in the "design phase." He said construction is tentatively scheduled to begin next spring, with the plant opening in 2020 — once funding and site selection are confirmed.

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