NEWS

High Liner plant closure devastates Newfoundland town

05/04/2012 08:08 EDT | Updated 07/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Residents of a southern Newfoundland community who worked at a seafood processing plant that had once been considered a model in the fishery say they are overwhelmed by news that it will soon close.

High Liner Foods Inc. revealed Thursday it will shut its secondary processing plant in Burin by the end of the year. It is also closing a plant in Danvers, Mass., that it also acquired in the 2007 breakup of Fishery Products International.

"I never thought it would come to this," said Cathy Dimmer, a local rep with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union.

Having worked at the plant for three decades, Dimmer said she and other workers in a tough position.

I have no education, I went to work there at the plant when I was 16," she told CBC news.

"I don't really know what I'm going to do. I don't even know where to start. It's not like I can move away and try to get a job."

The Burin plant — which stood out from other fish plants in Newfoundland and Labrador because it was able to process seafood year-round, with products that included fish for the McDonald's fast food chain — currently has a full-time workforce of 121. The plant also has 28 casual workers, and an additional 29 people are on long-term disability.

Mayor Kevin Lundrigan said seafood processing has been a mainstay in the town's economy for nearly 70 years.

"[I] certainly wasn't expecting it today," Lundrigan said in an interview.

"There's after being generations of families go through it. Now are we just going to be part of history."

Lundrigan said the town plans to meet with provincial government officials to study its options.

"I guess only time will tell," he said.

FFAW president Earle McCurdy said he does not see a new buyer in the wings.

Economics have changed dramatically: minister

Darin King, Newfoundland and Labrador's fisheries minister, said the economics of the seafood industry have changed dramatically in recent years.

"They were purchasing product in China and bringing it into Burin and processing it cheaper than they could buy it in Marystown and truck it down the road," King told reporters in St. John's.

"That's the issue you're dealing with."

The closure is the latest to rock Newfoundland and Labrador's seafood industry, which for many years has been struggling with a well-identified problem of too much processing capacity.

Plants have also closed in recent months in Marystown, Port Union, St. Lewis and Black Tickle.

King said upheaval in the province's fishery is far from over.

"There is probably going to be more before it's all over," said King, who believes Newfoundland and Labrador could see as much as 20 per cent of its processing plants close over the next five years.

"We have to continue, though, to focus on the people affected by all this and manage the process. I think that's the key."

MORE:cbcNews