Processing begins at Cooke plant in Harbour Breton, N.L.

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By Matthew Molloy

FOR THE SOU’WESTER

Cooke Aquaculture has begun processing salmon at the Harbour Breton, N.L. fish plant, and amidst adapting to new equipment and a new way of doing things, everything seems to be moving according to plan. "It's pretty exciting to finally be moving fish off the farms and into the plant, and to see them being processed," said Nell Halse, director of communications with Cooke Aquaculture. "We still have some bugs that have to be worked out - there are always mechanical glitches that have to be worked out, IT (information technology) issues that are still being worked out, but it's very exciting to finally be moving forward."

Cooke Aquaculture has staff in from New Brunswick at the Harbour Breton plant to help with the transition phase - including people from the IT department, quality control team and harvesting people. It will take a little time for plant workers to get used to the changes, as times, and equipment, have changed from the fish plant of old. "The equipment is for salmon processing itself and it's very much high-tech stuff. Everything we're sending out is fresh fish and it's a little different than processing ground fish, and especially frozen product," said Halse. "Also, we're talking about high-end fresh fish. When the fish come in from off the farm it's only a matter of hours before they're in the plant. That's head-on product, it's basically the whole fish that goes out. As a company, what we've developed in the past couple of years is the value-added side of the business. So every time you cut fish an extra time you're dealing with value-added product. That's a new thing for that plant, as well.”

The plant officially opened in early January. The plant employs about 84 people and that number should go up relatively soon. "Hopefully in another couple of weeks we'll have a second fillet line up and running and that will involve an additional 30 employees,” said Halse. “So we'll soon be working at full compliment."

Cooke Aquaculture is leasing the plant for one year from the Barry Group. Therefore, Cook Aquaculture had to make sure they have enough product for the one year, during which time they'll have to make a decision regarding their future in Harbour Breton. “We wanted to get enough production so we can keep that plant operating on a year-round basis. That's why it was important that when we went into the south coast that we went in with a big enough scale so it's economically viable,” said Halse. “In terms of being a plant, you got to have enough fish to keep going year-round. The intention is to have between 2.5 and three million fish going into sites each year.”

Halse says the company will have to make some long-term plans about where it will be processing fish in the long term. She says they’d like to eventually have their own facility. Will that be in Fortune, which the company also looked at, or is there an opportunity for a long-term future in Habour Breton? “These are all the things that we'll be looking at,” Halse says. (Matthew Molloy is a journalist with Transcontinental Media’s Coaster newspaper and a contributor to the Sou’Wester.)

Organizations: Cooke, Barry Group, Transcontinental Media

Geographic location: Harbour Breton, New Brunswick, Habour Breton

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