A tour of a Cooke Aquaculture processing plant
This story is a continuation of a series stemming from a recent media tour of Cooke Aquaculture facilities in New Brunswick. As early as late next year the company plans to have a major processing plant running in the Shelburne area as well as a hatchery in the Digby County area to support its growing open ocean salmon farms in Nova Scotia.
By Greg Bennett
The Coast Guard
The True North Salmon fish processing plant in St. George, New Brunswick is a bustling place.
Every morning, fresh salmon from open ocean farms arrive in huge ice filled tubs. From those tubs the salmon is placed on a conveyor belt and winched up into the main processing facility where an army of workers awaits.
Everywhere there are people in hairnets, gloves and drab blue smocks moving and talking. Many have knives in their hands, some have clipboards, but everyone is focused on something.
It is the job of the plant employees (and some machines) in the plant to fillet, debone and to cut the truckloads of salmon into marketable sizes and package it for waiting customers. The salmon are cleaned out at another facility and by the time the workers go home, all the fish that has arrived must be ready for market and be heading out the door.
To accomplish this task, the Cooke Aquaculture-owned processing plant has two 12-hour shifts that total more than 250 employees.
The economic impact of the plant reaches deeply into St. George and ripples spread far beyond the community.
The people at the St. George facility are a diverse group and represent all ages from teenagers to seniors. Some live in the community or nearby. But some live more than an hour and a half drive away from the plant and make the long drive four days a week to go to work.
Plant manager Letsie Blackmore says, ideally, they could use 20 to 30 more people and she noted they were actively recruiting for more workers.
“We never lay people off here,” says Blackmore. “We have more (fish) than we can handle. We’re straight out all the time.”
She says tradespeople and other skilled employees are paid competitively and the processing jobs offered in St. George start at $10.50 an hour and can range over $15 an hour. The manager notes there are production bonuses and benefits offered as well as opportunities for advancement within the facility.
Besides those directly dealing with processing are dozens of other people working in other areas of the plant, many who deal with the shipping and receiving at the end of the process.
During the production day, as more and more fish is packaged and storage rooms begin filling up, forklifts begin moving product out into loading bays.
By 4 p.m. large transport trucks are lining up outside the facility to be loaded with the freshly cut and packaged salmon. Trucks will come and go throughout the evening, long after the processors have gone home.
Those trucks, laden with salmon, will leave bound for destinations in the eastern U.S. and in Ontario.
After 7 p.m., the last of the day’s fish is processed and employees head home. While they leave a small army of cleaners arrive who work until the wee hours of the morning to make sure everything is ready when the production workers return.
Blackmore says it is a never-ending process, one that keeps evolving as markets change and equipment improves.