Set­backs for Ramea’s scal­lop fish­ery

Labrador Gem Seafoods owner Danny Du­maresque ex­plains cut in hours for work­ers

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Front Page - BY MAR­TINE BLUE

Labrador Gem Seafoods owner Danny Du­maresque is anx­ious about hav­ing a de­cent sea­son at Ramea’s scal­lop plant this year.

A few glitches with a new on board tank hold­ing sys­tem and is­sues get­ting in­de­pen­dent fish har­vesters to pro­vide the raw re­source re­sulted in plant em­ploy­ees work­ing less weeks than they are ac­cus­tomed to.

Ap­prox­i­mately three weeks ago, a new re­frig­er­ated, re­cir­cu­lat­ing sea wa­ter sys­tem that en­ables a ves­sel to carry live sea scal­lops in tem­per­a­ture con­trolled wa­ter was slightly too high, ef­fec­tively par­boil­ing the scal­lops that must ar­rive to the plant alive in or­der to be prop­erly pro­cessed into the line of prod­ucts the com­pany pro­duces. The equiv­a­lent of a met­ric ton of fin­ished prod­uct had to be dis­carded.

The hold­ing tank sys­tem is a project the com­pany helped to in­stall on an in­de­pen­dent har­vester’s boat.

“We work with the ves­sel owner to try and make a change to the ves­sel that would be a lot more pro­duc­tive, a lot more in­no­va­tive and a lot more prof­itable for the ves­sel,” Du­maresque said. “As op­posed to in pre­vi­ous years hav­ing to go to sea and only hav­ing a cer­tain time­line in which you would have to re­turn, keep­ing the scal­lops healthy us­ing ice alone, es­pe­cially in the sum­mer time.”

The hold­ing sys­tem is de­signed to burn less fuel and avoid un­prof­itable trips.

“We’re still in the fine-tun­ing of the sys­tem,” Du­maresque com­mented. “The last cou­ple of times the ves­sel was out, the sys­tem worked the way it should. I’m not say­ing that ev­ery kink is worked out. It will take a while, but the last cou­ple of times we’ve seen im­pec­ca­bly high qual­ity prod­uct.”

Du­maresque is try­ing to take the set­back in stride.

“The tem­per­a­ture of the wa­ter is prob­a­bly the most crit­i­cal part of keep­ing the scal­lops alive,” Du­maresque ex­plained. “I know from the plant side, we’ve recorded the warm­est weather that I’ve ever seen in Ramea, same thing is hap­pen­ing on the St. Pierre bank.

“Tem­per­a­tures reached 17, 18 de­grees Cel­sius and scal­lops are used to liv­ing in 3-4 de­grees Cel­sius. Les­son learned,” he con­tin­ued. “It hap­pened a year ago as well. That time it was on a truck. Un­for­tu­nately the tem­per­a­ture on the truck was set to mi­nus two in­stead of plus two. When it came to the plant it was frozen solid. Our prod­uct has to be alive to keep pro­duc­ing top qual­ity for the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­place.”

Labrador Gem Seafoods pro­duces a unique prod­uct line that in­cludes serv­ing most of the scal­lop, in­clud­ing the meat, rowe and frills, in its own half shell.

“Ninety-five per cent of our prod­uct leaves in its own orig­i­nal half shell,” he said. “It’s a prod­uct form that I dis­cov­ered nearly 20 years ago when I was trav­el­ling in Europe, par­tic­u­larly in Spain and France.”

Sus­tain­able

Du­maresque claims that his com­pany is the only one pro­duc­ing scal­lops this way in North Amer­ica.

“I grew up in the Straight of Belle Isle where there’s a lu­cra­tive scal­lop fish­ery but I was al­ways told ev­ery­thing beyond the mus­cle is poi­son, you shouldn’t eat it,” Du­maresque re­calls. “There­fore much of N.L. and in­deed North Amer­ica, just grew up eat­ing the mus­cle of the scal­lop as op­posed to any other parts of it, and never eat­ing it in its own shell.

“We wanted to try to do some­thing dif­fer­ent and try to carve out a niche in the mar­ket­place.”

Du­maresque main­tains that this method is more sus­tain­able to har­vest.

“We don’t need as much sup­ply,” he re­marked, “be­cause if you are shuck­ing scal­lops you only need about ba­si­cally nine per cent of what you pulled aboard the ves­sel and that’s been hap­pen­ing the last 50-60 years or so in N.L.

“By keep­ing the scal­lop in the shell, we’re sell­ing up­wards of 50-60 per cent of what we pur­chased; doesn’t put the same pres­sure on the re­source; and I be­lieve we de­liver a su­pe­rior prod­uct to the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­place.”

Chal­lenge

Du­maresque says an­other part of the chal­lenge at his plant is re­ceiv­ing enough scal­lops from in­de­pen­dent fish har­vesters to keep the plant op­er­at­ing.

“Ramea isn’t a com­mu­nity that has a res­i­dent scal­lop fish­er­man and nei­ther does Port aux Basques to Har­bour Bre­ton,” Du­maresque said. “So we are work­ing hard to try to at­tract other sup­pli­ers.

“This year we thought we had other sup­plies but these other sup­pli­ers de­cided to pros­e­cute other species rather than scal­lops and that gave us a sig­nif­i­cant de­lay and the re­fit of this ves­sel gave us a dif­fi­cult time and we’re be­hind the eight ball.”

Du­maresque said they are also work­ing with the pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting scal­lops from the North­ern Penin­sula since the fish­er­man there have fin­ished their ground­fish for the year.

Hav­ing to rely on in­de­pen­dent fish har­vesters who have other catch pri­or­i­ties is an is­sue for Du­maresque who would pre­fer to have a fleet of com­pany ves­sels to en­sure more re­li­able catches.

“The most un­for­tu­nate thing about the fish­eries man­age­ment policy in N.L. is that me as a pro­ces­sor, I’m not al­lowed to own a li­cense for scal­lops, which I can then crew a ves­sel and op­er­ate it to sat­isfy my plant,” he said. “Un­der their rules, some peo­ple have quo­tas and we’ve just seen re­cently where Conne River and the Fogo Is­land Co-op man­aged to get a quota for sea cucumber. An ar­range­ment like that with Ot­tawa, that would se­cure the fu­ture of the Ramea plant.”

Du­maresque added that he un­der­stands fish har­vester’s duty is to their own en­ter­prises first.

“I don’t blame them,” he said. “If you’re work­ing with crab or sea cucumber or tuna, you have to go af­ter them when you need to.”

At this point Du­maresque has no idea how much scal­lop will be pro­cessed this year.

“I wish I could tell you,” he lamented. “That’s the big­gest ques­tion in my mind.

“I know we’re ca­pa­ble of pro­cess­ing 50-60 pounds a week. It all de­pends on the sup­ply and I hope and pray the main ves­sel we have now has ironed all the kinks in the sys­tem. We hope they will find scal­lops and de­liver them reg­u­larly.”

Du­maresque is also open to work­ing with har­vesters from other ar­eas, who are will­ing to give fish­ing scal­lops a try.

“We hope to pick up sup­ply from other places and cer­tainly if some­one from the south west coast wants, and we’ve heard from a cou­ple of peo­ple who want to give this a shot when they fin­ish with other things like sea cucumber, then we’d be quite open ac­cept­ing an­other sup­ply,” he said.

Hours for plant work­ers

Labrador Gem Seafoods em­ploys 40-50 plant work­ers. So far they’ve worked about half the hours they have in pre­vi­ous years. Du­maresque hopes to keep them em­ployed un­til Christ­mas but ad­mits that the con­di­tions for steady work are beyond his con­trol.

“That is the ma­jor pre­oc­cu­py­ing fac­tor of my­self ev­ery day,” Du­maresque said. “How can I con­trol more sup­ply com­ing to our plant? In the ab­sence of hav­ing that re­li­a­bil­ity of sup­ply, I can’t guar­an­tee any­thing.

“We do know there are scal­lops out there and we are do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to get them into the plant. It’s been a hor­ri­ble year, no ques­tion. It’s been dif­fi­cult be­cause we’ve missed the main fish­ing sea­son from May un­til Septem­ber,” he con­tin­ued. “That makes it more dif­fi­cult to cover your over­head to hit your tar­gets, but we’ll try our best to work our way through it and I’m sure our fish­er­men will as well. I’m sure we’ll still have a pro­duc­tive fall.”

High hopes

Look­ing for­ward, Du­maresque is cross­ing his fin­gers for the rest of this sea­son and has high hopes for next year.

“So there’s still time to be able to give the nec­es­sary hours for EI (em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance) to our work­force and be able to have a rea­son­able year to our fish­er­men and the com­pany,” he said. “One thing I can say with con­fi­dence is that if the scal­lops are sup­plied to us, then yes, the work­ers will get their in­sur­able hours.

“We cer­tainly be­lieve next year will be a much dif­fer­ent year be­cause this ves­sel won’t go un­der any such re­fit so we will cer­tainly po­si­tion to be off the mark in late March, early April and con­tinue for eight months and def­i­nitely will be able to have a much more pro­duc­tive year than we’re hav­ing this year.”

SUB­MIT­TED

The Ramea Seafood Plant.

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