‘ This area has survived on its own merits’
First, the processing plant is humming along at a brisk pace, processing more snow crab in the past two years than ever in its history.
Secondly, for the first time in four generations, a member of the Woodman family is not at the helm of a fish processing company in the community.
Fred and his younger brother Jeff sold Woodman Sea Products Limited to the Daley Brothers last year, marking the beginning of a new chapter in the region’s long attachment to the fishing industry.
The Woodman brothers still play a role in the operation — Fred still looks after his fishermen and Jeff is the controller — but the day-to-day operation is now in the hands of the Daley Brothers, a prominent name in the province’s seafood industry.
The change in ownership has had tongues wagging for many months, and the general consensus seems to be positive.
“There’s more hope,” said one worker, who asked not to be named when approached by The Compass last week. “You turn on the news and all you hear about is plants shutting down. We believe things are getting better in New Harbour.”
Beverly Higdon, who chairs the committee overseeing the Local Service District of New Harbour, is also encouraged.
“I guess it’s good for the economy,” she said “The other fish plants that were here were operating with very few hours during the year. Hopefully, there wi l l be more employment in the New Harbour area and we won’t have to be dependent on these job creation projects to be eligible for employment insurance benefits.”
Attempts to speak with representatives of the new owners have been met with a terse “no comment.” The Daley’s have never been known to be media friendly, and prefer to go about their business as quietly as possible.
But there’s no hiding the changes taking place in New Harbour. The Daley’s appear to have made the community of roughly 320 families their new centre of operations, and have plans to grow it even bigger.
The company has applied to the Fish Processing Licensing Board for permission to transfer its shrimp licence from its former operation in St. Joseph’s, St. Mary’s Bay, which would bolster the New Harbour operation and likely extend the processing season.
The Daley’s got their start in St. Joseph’s, but the company’s plant, operated under a company called Atlantic Cold Seafoods, burned to the ground in late October 2011. The plant provided roughly 100 seasonal jobs.
The company now wishes to transfer that resource to New Harbour, but it will have to receive the blessing of both the licensing board and Darin King, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture. Attempts to reach King last week were unsuccessful.
It’s the second time in recent years the company has attempted to move a licence, and it’s hoping for a better result this time. A request to transfer a crab licence from Little Bay Islands to St. Joseph’s was denied.
Observers say this request is more likely to be approved, since the two plants are in the same NAFO zone, and some of the workers once employed at the plant in St. Joseph’s are now working in New Harbour.
Calls to St. Joseph’s Mayor Anthony Healey were not returned.
Time to leave
Meanwhile, Fred Woodman, never one to shy away from the spotlight or hide his opinion, spoke openly last week about his decision to sell the business when visited at his home.
Dressed in a light sports shirt and khaki shorts, Woodman is tanned from working outside. He has plenty of time to train his dog, and looks forward to travelling to Western Canada this fall for some serious duck and geese hunting.
His days are no longer filled with operational issues such as ensuring the plant is running smoothly, or interacting with government officials who enforce the many regulation associated with the processing of seafood.
After many years on the front lines of the fishery, beginning when he was a young boy, Woodman admitted the time had come for him to leave the industry.
“I had reached the age of 50. A lot of the hunger was gone out of my belly for it,” he said.
After struggling through the years after the cod moratorium was called in 1992, at some points operating for 40-plus weeks while most other plants sat idle, activity at the company’s two plants in the town started to wane in recent years. Workers were struggling to qualify for EI benefits each year, and many either retired or moved on to other jobs.
Younger people entering the workforce, not satisfied with the prospect of seasonal work at pay just above the minimum wage, have trained for various skilled trades and many are working in nearby Long Harbour, where Vale Inco is building a massive nickel processing plant.
The greater good
So when the Daley Brothers came calling over a year ago, Woodman said the choice was obvious. He had access to about three million pounds of crab, and the Daley Brothers were buying even more than that.
He realized the only way to ensure a future for the business in New Harbour was for him to step away.
“It was for the greater good. When I was here we were doing three million pounds. I’m not here and we’re doing over seven,” he said.
“Last year, one of my best friends looked at me and said, ‘That was the best year I had in the fish plant in 10 years.’ He worked 1,300 hours last year. If they’ve got a complaint now it’s too much work.”
The Daley Brothers have had their share of critics over the years, but Woodman is not one of them. He described them as very hands- on and aggressive, and seemingly committed to establishing a strong operation in New Harbour.
“I can’t image anybody else that I would let come here. This is the best thing that could have happened.”
Woodman said the Daley’s have already invested significantly into the operation, and will invest even more if the licence transfer is approved.
“The next step in the evolution of the frozen fish business in the bottom of Trinity Bay is the Daley Brothers,” he said. “But the one thing that remains constant are the people of Trinity South. They are damn good workers with a great work ethic. This area has survived on its own merits.”