October 25, 2012 -- As Norman Black arrived for work at 7 a.m. at the new fish processing plant n the village of Lax Kw'allaams arlier this week, he couldn't elp but break into a grin.
There, at the dock, was the 33-metre trawler Nemesis, as its skipper had promised, with 50 tonnes of groundfish in its hold - the first fish to arrive at the dock in more than a year.
Black, the general manager of the state-of-the art plant, was on the dock with 75 other people to witness history. The Nemesis was carrying more than a cargo of fish. It was carrying the hopes of the 800 residents of Lax Kw'allaams, north of Prince Rupert, who have built what is arguably the most modern fish processing and freezing facility in Canada, revitalizing a north coast industry that has been shrinking for decades.
"We were speechless when they started unloading the fish," Black said. "It was pure excitement and joy. Our operations manager, Pam Tait, came down and let out a whoop that was heard across the bay.
"These are the first fish delivered to this plant. And for the 12 months we had the plant under construction, there was no smell of fish. And guess what? Today we smell of fish. It's the smell of money."
All the fish will be frozen by the end of the day. By the end of the month, it will be aboard a cargo ship on its way to China.
The new fish plant attracted such attention because the canneries that once dotted the coast have long since vanished and the processing plants in nearby Prince Rupert have either consolidated operations or closed. Lax Kw'allaams, formerly Port Simpson, had a cannery that was replaced 20 years ago with a processing plant that operated only seasonally.
Black said the First Nation saw an opportunity. Freezing technology had advanced to the point that groundfish like turbot, which have a short shelf-life, can be marketed if they are frozen quickly after being caught. The fishing grounds in Dixon Entrance were a short run away. The community had a trained workforce of fishcut-ters and, said Black, "we saw that markets around the world are getting hungry for what used to be called under-utilized species that are, after all, protein. The world is hungry."
The final piece in completing the business plan involved the Port of Prince Rupert, where a cargo ship bound for China departs weekly , where the flash-frozen fish is processed into seafood such as fish sticks.
To finance the processing plant, the First Nation raised $11 million, using for seed money its own cash earned in other business enterprises. It also received $1.25 million from the Coast Opportunity Funds, a $116-million fund set up by government and NGOs to develop sustainable coastal economies. The money was invested in an automated fish-cutting machine that makes it economical to filet small bottomfish like Dover sole for the fresh fish market, and in sophisticated freezing equipment.
Read the full story at the Vancouver Sun