Souris Harbour Authority taking over mothballed Ocean Choice fish plant

Steve Sharratt
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FILE PHOTO: Ocean Choice International in Souris

SOURIS — A deal is on its way that will see local interests take over the mothballed Ocean Choice fish plant here and open the doors to new tenants, including a fish processing operation, by next year.

The Guardian has learned the Souris Harbour Authority will take over the former fish processing facility in eastern P.E.I. by the end of the month.

The transfer is expected to bring new “tenants”, including a fish processor that could employ up to 50 people by next spring.

“I understand we will finally be saying goodbye to OCI,” said Mayor David MacDonald when contacted by The Guardian on Friday. “Everything is on a holding pattern right now as far as making an official announcement.”

It was April, 2011, just a week before the lobster season opened, when Ocean Choice International, owned by Newfoundland interests, announced it was shutting down operations in Souris and putting the plant up for sale.

“I’m very happy about this coming change,’’ said MacDonald. “It means local ownership and some employment in the town again.”

MacDonald was mayor when OCI announced the closure three years ago, leaving the community in shock and 300 people out of work just days before the spring lobster season opened. The company had invested millions in the operation and had cornered the Island lobster market with its deal with the province that granted exclusive processing options.

“It won’t be a complete fish processing plant again because it’s too big, but I understand there will be more than one tenant using the facility,” said the mayor. “Believe me, the Harbour Authority is not buying this on speculation and tenants are ready to move in.”

By the end of the month we will be seeing their tail lights heading out of town. Souris Mayor David MacDonald.

The Ocean Choice freezers are currently the only part of the plant being used. The freezers are leased to Wyman’s for blueberry storage and Eastern Cold Storage — the largest freezer unit in the province and also operated by the Harbour Authority — is filled to capacity with millions of pounds of fish by-products and dehydrated potato products.

“We’re quite pleased and look forward to when government intends to make it official,’’ said MacDonald. “I don’t think there will any tears shed to see OCI tail lights heading out of town.”

There were past rumours that Asian interests were courting a takeover of the Souris plant that processed lobster, herring, crab and mackerel. Other industry officials said they welcomed the local takeover and the government support to be announced.

The plant was entirely owned by OCI and an Icelandic bank after the former provincial Conservative government provided no safeguards to ensure the province owned some of the assets. There was no fail safe clause in the turnover of the plant to ensure taxpayers didn’t lose out in case of a failure.

In 2004, the former Conservative government signed a deal that required the P.E.I. government to extend the same benefits to Ocean Choice that it would to any other fish processor on the Island. That deal stopped the province from issuing new lobster processing licences for 10 years as long as OCI, which operated other plants as well, made reasonable efforts to employ 600 people.

Organizations: Souris Harbour Authority

Geographic location: SOURIS, Eastern P.E.I., Iceland Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • SlyFox
    October 18, 2014 - 17:34

    A lot of missing information in this article.How did this plant move out of O.C.I. hands? Or is O.C.I. selling the plant? Is it O.C.I that is leasing the freezers out to Wyman's? Since our government is in a law suit against this company in the range of 10 million dollar? Would the government have not placed liens on all of O.C.I assets on the Island? Or is the lawsuit settled now and O.C.I is walking away with more taxpayers dollars? It is not real reporting if we are only being told part of the whole story.

  • Huh?
    October 18, 2014 - 16:56

    So, are these 50 new jobs, or 50 jobs relocated from North Lake? I hear these aren't 50 MORE jobs, just relocated ones. And also, how will this affect the severance package situation between former OCI employees, their union and OCI? Yes, the monies that the employees have yet to receive, 3.5 yrs later. Questions, questions...

  • mary hebert
    October 18, 2014 - 10:01

    finally some good news for the eastern end of the island jobs needed badly way to go

  • Julie
    October 18, 2014 - 08:22

    Great to see the plant back in action again. But did anyone notice that Ocean Choice sold the property not the present government that said it was there's and they never gave any money to other plants as was in the contract. Perhaps had they helped with working capital those last days family's would still be intact and the town not suffering from people moving out to find work in other areas. Some day.....

    October 18, 2014 - 05:51

    Well done Souris ! Turn this into a Co-op . I would love to be a paid up member !!!

  • fisherman
    October 18, 2014 - 03:05

    We are still trying to recover from Pat Binns and Mike Currie effort t destroy PEI fishing Industry.Unless Jason Kenny changes his mind a 200 lb quota next spring will be toughest test yet .3 plants are reporting either not running or running at a much smaller scale because of lack of workers.Oil patch bound again .

    • John
      October 18, 2014 - 15:58

      This is a good news story for souris and people who want to work. Leave it to a fisherman to turn it into a sob story about them. What a joke

    • AMAZED
      October 19, 2014 - 08:54

      Well said fisherman , we may never recover from that fiasco , and the Tories have hardened their hearts to our plight .