Monday marked the end of an era in Prince Rupert as operations at JS McMillan’s fish processing plant ceased for good just days after the final ship to offload at the facility pulled away from the dock.
“Right now we’re just cleaning up and preparing to ship the rest of the fish in cold storage down to Vancouver,” said Colin McMillan, JS McMillan’s general manager.
“The shutdown is going to affect about 82 employees, although we are going to continue to use about a dozen in the coming weeks as we winterize the facility and move some of the equipment out. But the contract with the union ended on October 31,” added acquiring manager Phil Young, noting that the decision to close the plant was a tough one for the company.
With the plant now closed, portions of the structure will be torn down for insurance reasons, and McMillan says the whole thing may come down in the future.
“Ultimately the plant is on leased property and part of that lease is that at the end of it the landlord, in this case the Prince Rupert Port Authority, can request the structure be demolished,” he explained.
“We do anticipate the structure will be demolished, but haven’t initiated that yet.”
While the processing plant is closed, the plan from the start was to keep the reduction plant operational after reaching an agreement with the fish processing companies and stakeholders in the community. However, such a deal has not been reached yet so the facility will be closed for the winter.
“We’re getting ready to winterize the reduction plant right now, which is new to us because we usually run a few shifts for the groundfish during the winter…But without that the plant could get mothballed during the winter,” said McMillan, adding that he is confident an agreement will be reached before the start of the salmon season in 2012.
“[Discussions] are going Ok. Everyone is committed to working this out and to continue to operate the reduction plant because it is such an essential piece of infrastructure in Prince Rupert.”
Young added that there didn’t seem to be a sense of urgency among the stakeholders, since fish isn’t processed at the other plants during the winter months. However, Joy Thorkelson of the United Fishermen and Allied Worker’s Union said the effects of the closure are already being felt.
“I found out [Saturday] that our ‘new work’ at Ocean (Royal) is going to have to stop because there is no where to put the offal. The Union has worked with Oceans and made contract concessions in order to bring pollock and hake to our Royal plant to process. For the past two weeks 50 Ocean Fish workers have been working on two shifts. Management is very happy with the workers’ productivity. They are one third of the way through the promised tonnage and the company was trying to source more fish. Now the company will offload the fish here and send it south for processing. This means that not only the 100 jobs or so at the JS McMillan filleting operation are lost, but the 50 jobs at Ocean will also be gone,” she said, adding that the lack of a deal is concerning.
“The question is why, after several months the rest of the Rupert processors have not made a deal to ensure that the reduction plant keeps open? Without the reduction plant the whole processing sector is at risk. Once the companies make arrangements to process their fish ‘down south’ – Lower Mainland or even Portland Oregon – they get used to that routine and it is harder and harder for us to reclaim the work.”