Cape Bald Packers announced Wednesday it will not be rebuilding a lobster plant lost to fire in Richibucto-Village, opting instead to consolidate its operations in Cap-Pelé with a new facility.
The New Brunswick-based seafood processing company saw fires 17 days apart devastate plants in the two eastern New Brunswick communities in February.
The Richibucto-Village plant housed about 150 workers, while roughly 500 were employed an hour's drive south in Cap-Pelé.
"I know this decision will come as a disappointment to our former workers and the broader community," Louis Arsenault, manager of the company's Richibucto division, said in a release.
"That plant had been running in the area since the late 1960s, well before Cape Bald Packers acquired it in 2014. It was an honour for me to work alongside over 150 dedicated and hard-working colleagues for five years."
The company owns a second processing in Cap-Pelé, which houses its corporate offices. In May, about 450 people returned to work in Cap-Pelé, as plans to rebuild the plant were developed.
Building new plant
Those plans were announced Wednesday with the company saying construction is underway on a 50,000-square-foot lobster processing plant where the previous one stood. It's expected to be open in time for lobster season next May.
About 300 employees are expected to work at the plant, depending on the season.
This year has been "one of the most challenging years in our 70-year history as a company," said Doris Losier, director of Cape Bald Packers in the release. "We are so grateful to our employees, our customers and our suppliers who have stood by us as we regrouped as a company."
Losier said it was a "difficult decision" not to rebuild in Richibucto-Village, adding the company would keep its promise to ensure affected employees "can find employment within our operations or at nearby processing plants."
The company said the majority of the Richibucto-Village workers have found other employment, and the company is offering to bring those who haven't into the fold in Cap-Pelé.
William Downey, who manages the marine store in Richibucto-Village, said that may not be practical for some of the workers.
"It's difficult to find work around here unless you travel very far and the economics of that just, you know, it makes it just very difficult for everybody, even the immigrant community," Downey told CBC News.
Another lost business
Downey said there was some hope the company would rebuild in the community, but he said it's hard to fault Cape Bald Packers for consolidating in one place, especially when there are two other processing plants in the Richibucto-Village area.
"It really comes down to the economics of it, and while the industry as a whole won't suffer, you know, this area will have to do what it's always done is to bear down and look for other avenues of income and other ways to put food on the table," he said.
Nevertheless, it's another business lost in the community, Downey said.
"We had a Co-op store grocery store. That's gone," he said. "The post office is barely there. We used to have two gas stations in town. Now there are none.
"The marine store is still there. It's one of the last businesses in town. Other than a little convenience store. So the people have been, you know, conditioned to a certain point to, you know, anticipate some of this."
Cape Bald Packers processes lobster, snow crab as well as P.E.I mussels and sells its product mainly to the United States but also Europe and Asia.