Lax Kw’alaams fish plant to reopen with groundfish processing capabilities

Hoping to fill the void left by the MacMillan fish plant in October, the Lax Kw'alaams fish plant is now focusing on groundfish processing.

The fish processing plant in Port Simpson is having a grand reopening on July 17. A couple million dollars worth of renovations and improvements have been made to the village’s processing plant, which is now hoping to fill the void in groundfish processing capacity left by the closure of the MacMillan fish plant in Prince Rupert.

“We’re not discarding salmon, we’re breaking into groundfish. I think that’s going to be our main focus. That’s going to [more beneficial] for our people,” says the village’s mayor, Gary Reece.

Over $8-million dollars has been spent on upgrading the 40-year-old fish plan, which has been operated by a couple different companies in that time, but is currently under the control of a band-owned initiative, Lax Kw’alaams Fish Plant Ltd.

The plan was to turn the aging plant into a state-of-the-art facility with vastly expanded operations. Until now the plant mainly focused on salmon (and will be expanding those operations as well), but has now set its sights on groundfish such as halibut, sole and flounder as well.

The North Coast lost its only fish plant equipped to process groundfish when the MacMillan plant in Prince Rupert last October. While the decision to focus on groundfish was made before the closure, the Lax Kw’alaams community now stands to benefit from the gap in the market.

The plant is expected to be in operation 10 months out of the year now and eventually provide up to 300 steady jobs for village residents. It’s hoped that this will help reinvigorate the commercial aboriginal fishing industry, which has been waning in recent years.

“There’s not enough salmon. We still have 60 boats that commercial fish out here, but over the last few years it hasn’t been very good . . .that’s the reason we’re getting into groundfish now,” says Reece.

To meet the increased business many changes had to be made the facility and deals had made.

The plant’s refrigeration system and freezers have been improved and their capacity expanded. When the power is hooked up next week the plant will be able to fast-freeze 500,000 lbs of fish a day.

The fish pant company has bought 1.4 million lbs worth of quota for itself this year as well as which currently up in Alaska catching salmon. The plant has will be receiving fish from fishing boats from Metlakatla, Alaska and they have also made arrangements to sell their processed fish straight from the plant to markets in the US.