Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A once vibrant industry suffers further declines on the North Coast

Once upon a time, the backbone of the Prince Rupert economy was the fishery, whether it be the numerous and teeming fish plants bursting at the seams with fish and productivity, to the wild west life of the North Coast fisherman, where many a fortune was made on just a couple of sets.

That of course is very much in the past these days, the fishery has declined significantly over the last few decades, increasing modernization of the fishing industry has meant fewer workers were needed, for less time through the once prosperous herring and salmon seasons.

Corporate restructuring over the last decade or so has resulted in but one major player remaining on the North Coast, Jim Pattison's Canfisco operation, which all but rules the region and sets the tone for what's left of the once thriving industry.

Labour disputes and internal management decisions over the last decade no doubt had their impact on some of those restructuring choices from the fishing companies, while regulatory decisions from DFO, always a flash point for both unions and companies, have had their input as well.

Overall, there have been many factors that have seemed to contribute to the fishing industry's woes, some perhaps avoidable, others perhaps just a part of the evolution of an industry that seems very much last century now.

All of it has provided for a perfect storm of sorts, that has seen the fishery clearly fade from the waterfront as a major ingredient to the local economic picture. The fishing industry of today, now appears to be but a bit player among the noise and anticipation of what may be on the horizon for the local economy.

From the latest details of the Container Port's further development, the increased production at Ridley Island through the Coal and Grain Terminals and of late with the prospect of natural gas terminals suddenly dotting the North Coast, the promise of further employment and investment seems all part and parcel of those plans and wishes, all of them far removed from the fishing industry.

This past year was not a kind one for the north coast fishery, the fishing season started out with the news that Ocean Fish was set to close its doors, a decision that came following the merger of Ocean Fish with Canfisco assets last year, the testimony to the finality of that decision now found on George Hills Way where a chain link fence now surrounds the all but abandoned fish plant.

That closure of course followed the news of last year when McMillan Fish closed its operations, the Fairview plant, the last operation of a fish plant on that site that dates back to the old co-op days.

That in effect left Canfisco as the sole large scale employer in the fishery this summer, and while they aren't sounding overly pessimistic moving forward, this past summer was not a particularly good one for the fishery, a situation that will have a large impact on those shore workers and fishing boat workers who may not have accumulated enough work time for Employment Insurance this fall.

It would seem that may be the norm now in an industry that seems to be moving more towards status as that of a niche sector of the local economy, no longer the top draw or major employer on the North Coast.

For more on the North Coast Fishing industry you can check out our archive of news on that sector .

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