Fish plant workers needed in P.E.I.

Jim Day
Published on March 21, 2016
Dennis King

There is little sugar coating in these classified ads looking to attract fish plant workers.

Work conditions, notes one, include repetitive tasks, standing for extended periods of time, handling heavy loads and working in a cold environment.

Another sizes up the workplace as: "Noisy; odours; cold/refrigerated.''

Add modest wages to the mix and the task of separating and removing lobster meat or processing other sea critters like snow crab or herring simply does not appeal to the masses.

"It's a tough fill to get people to come,'' says Lynn Rayner, production manager of Acadian Supreme Inc. in Abram-Village.

"I think it's the stigma. People don't want to work in a fish plant.''

So, like other fish plant operators, Dean Hancock, owner of Belle River Enterprises Ltd., has been working to make the job more appealing.

He plans to increase the starting hourly wage at his plant when he opens May 1 to start processing lobster and crab.

"I've had people in my plant for 30 years, but that group is retiring,'' he explains.

"It's difficult to recruit and fill those spots...I don't think anyone is going to come from the oil patch to work in a fish plant in P.E.I.''

Overall, the industry is offering greater incentives to potential employees, says Dennis King, executive director of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association.

The plants are more aggressive in recruiting workers, offering better wages, more flexibility in work hours, and even in some cases day care assistance.

"Everybody is trying to bring in workers,'' says King.

He says 1,600 to 1,700 people work in processing lobsters, mussels, halibut in about 20 plants across the province.

Last year, the plants collectively were short of their desired complement by 300 to 500 workers.

Rayner says each of the last three or four years her plant could have used an additional 50 employees.

She expects to be short again when processing of lobsters and rock crab begin by May. Her Acadian Supremeplant needs 220-240 workers to run lines effectively at peak times. 

King says the industry has realized the need to reduce the reliance on temporary foreign workers.

Rayner also hopes to get more locals working at Acadian Supreme.

"We are being more flexible this year with the hopes of bringing more local people in,'' she says.