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Lobster processing plant in Val-Comeau, N.B., ‘a total loss’ after fire

Fire destroys fish processing plant in northern N.B.
WATCH: Industry leaders are struggling to find replacement processing plants for lobster and fish after a fire has destroyed a facility in Val-Comeau, N.B. Callum Smith has more.

Fire has completely destroyed a large seafood processing plant in northeastern New Brunswick.

The blaze broke out shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday at Les Pecheries de Chez Nous in Val-Comeau, a community within the regional municipality of Tracadie.

Scott Myles, the municipality’s director of public security, says firefighters from Tracadie and four neighbouring communities fought the fire, and it took about three-and-a-half hours to get under control.

“The plant is a total loss,” he said.

READ MORE: Questions raised after fire destroys New Brunswick firm’s second fish plant

He said the plant was in production at the time, and many of the people working there weren’t able to get their personal belongings, including car keys, in the scramble to exit the building.

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There were no injuries.

The plant, which processed lobster, employed about 250 to 300 people.

Staff from the fire marshal’s office were on the scene Friday investigating the cause.

Martin Maillet, executive director of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, said the fire is just the latest blow to what he describes as a “disastrous” season so far.

The COVID-19 pandemic has collapsed export markets for lobster, and a recent ban on temporary foreign workers from entering the province has left processing plants short of staff.

Maillet said that shortage will actually work in favour of the staff from the burned plant.

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“We think that these plant workers will be able, in many cases, to be relocated to other plants in the area and in southern New Brunswick within the next few days and weeks because of the labour shortage,” he said Friday.

Maillet said fishermen have already been facing smaller quotas, from the processors and the fire will only compound the problem.

“This plant was able to process 75,000 to 100,000 pounds a day. Right now, that’s capacity that we’ve lost,” he said.

READ MORE: N.B. offering Paturel lobster plant $36K to help rebuild after fire

Maillet said as the employees start working in other plants, it’s hoped that processing capacity will come back.

Right now, he says, fishermen are getting about $3 to $4 per pound for lobster from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He says that’s 30 to 40 per cent less than prices last year.

“Fisheries have always been an up and down kind of business and we’ve been through some pretty bad situations in the past, so I’m hopeful that we’re going to get through this,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2020.