‘ This area has sur­vived on its own mer­its’

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

Li­cence trans­fer

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.”

edi­tor@cb­n­com­pass.caa

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