Thursday, November 12, 2015

Canfisco to bring an end to Salmon canning operations at Prince Rupert plant

The canning lines of the largest salmon cannery on the west coast will remain silent next season.

The retorts no longer to be fired up, the giant plume of steam from them no longer to be visible from the east side of the city and the symphony of noise that once proclaimed salmon season on the North Coast to be heard no more.

In one of those seismic shock moments for the community, the Canadian Fishing Company, part of the Pattison Group of companies and better known around Prince Rupert as Canfisco, announced a restructuring program on Thursday.

With the long time operator of the salmon canning plant on George Hills Way advising through a press release that owing to a decline for canned salmon, together with a limited supply and high costs, the company can no longer support the maintenance and operation of the canning operation in Prince Rupert.

A letter delivered to UFAWU-Unifor and posted to the union's Facebook page outlined the background to the notice to the union.

A letter to UFAWU-Unifor from the Canadian Fishing Company
outlining plans to bring an end to canning operations at the
Prince Rupert Oceanside plant

While the main impact of the announcement of today won't actually be felt in full until the start of the salmon season next May, the decision to end canning operations in Prince Rupert could deliver the final blow to an industry that once defined Prince Rupert's economic base.

It will be the summer of 2016 where we will see the full realization of the loss of a large volume of seasonal jobs in the community. The four key months of May, June, July and August for the most part provided the seasonal workers of the cannery with the bulk of their yearly income (and the main form of qualification for EI for the remainder) from the short but hectic window that was salmon season.

And while the company notes that they plan to continue to land and process salmon into other product forms at the Oceanside plant on George Hills Way, as well as at their Seal Cove operations.

The bulk of the cannery itself will be left to the ghosts of the more bountiful years of the past, a period of time in Prince Rupert when the salmon fishery defined the community.

The two local Canfisco plants for the most part now it seems are destined to serve the fresh fish aspect of the industry, as well as to provide some form of a transportation point between the Northern and Southern operations that that the company has in British Columbia.

The canning lines will run no more at the Oceanside plant, as Canfisco
announces plans to end canning operations at the large plant on
Prince Rupert's east side

Canfisco served notice of their plan under Section 54 of the Canadian Labour Code which deals with notice of technological change and with the announcement of today has begun the process of meeting with union representatives and employees to discuss what is called the adjustment plan.

No firm details as to the number of job losses that will result from Thursday's announcement were provided, though as most who know the workings of the fish plant, the cannery operations not only were the life of the building, but the main contributor to the employment ranks for Canadian Fish.

Along with those that worked the canning lines, the closure of the canning operations will also have a significant impact on the maintenance and trades workers at the plant who will be among those most affected by the shift in focus for the fishing company.

Members of the non union company staff and management will also be feeling the effects of today's announcement, particularly those that were involved in the canning operations as the Oceanside plant.

Without a cannery operation, the prospect of large numbers of workers dropping off the employment rolls of the company is a given and with few job opportunities remaining in the fishing sector on the North Coast, those that once worked in the canneries will be looking for alternatives in a community that still holds one of the highest unemployment rates in the province.

The closure of the cannery, will also deliver a number of other consequences as well, from the reduction of the purchase of goods and services from local companies, to an increase on the growing pressures of the social safety mechanisms of the community that already are feeling some heavy strains.

The leadership of UFAWU-Unifor on the North Coast, the labour union that represents workers at the Canfisco plants expressed their shock at the developments, and noted that  there will be a meeting of ALL MEMBERS at the Fishermen's Hall at 10:30 AM on Friday.

Of note for the new Federal Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo, will be some of the comments that Mr. Morley, the Vice-President of Canfisco made to the weekly paper the Northern View today, noting that in addition to labour competition from Alaska plants (some of which Canfisco own and operate) the restrictions of recent DFO policies also played a role in the business decision of today.

In an interesting note from elsewhere in the Jim Pattison business empire today, while Mr. Morley was noting the closure of the Prince Rupert cannery operations and the job losses that will come from it, another branch of the Pattison group had more positive news.

Noting that a land acquisition in Squamish had been completed, with the paper in the community noting that one of the rumoured projects that the Pattison group may be considering is that of a waterpark.

That's a Pattison project that could provide 400 jobs in Squamish, ironically perhaps, an amount that may be a low end projection of those that will be lost in Prince Rupert after today's announcement.

More items related to the Fishery on the North Coast can be found from our archive page.

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