Northern Peninsula fish plant wiped out, but company has jobs, relocation money ready for workers

Workers deciding on compensation offer after Black Duck Cove fish plant fire

Wednesday's fire at the fish plant in Black Duck Cove has left the building completely destroyed, but the owners of the Gulf Shrimp plant are vowing to take care of their employees. 

Employees of the Black Duck Cove facility will have jobs at other processing facilities in the province, namely the production facilities at Old Perlican, according to a press release issued by Gulf Shrimp Limited on Thursday afternoon. 

That will mean people relocating, the statement reads, but the company will provide accommodation and relocation allowances for all its employees. 

"This loss is devastating for our employees, seafood suppliers, the community and the company," reads the statement. 

"We wish to emphasize, whoever, that we are a resilient, well-established N.L. business. At this time, we are doing everything reasonably possible to meet the challenges, we all now must face."

The fish plant building was engulfed in flames when the Flowers Cove RCMP responded at about 7 p.m. Wednesday. 

Nobody was injured and the cause of the fire is unknown and under investigation.

'Total devastation'

Michelle Dredge watched her workplace go up in flames Wednesday night.

"Everybody's heartbroken here," she said.

The Northern Peninsula town's volunteer fire chief was at a loss for words.

"Total devastation, it's the only thing I can say," Clifford Cabot, who also works at the plant, told Newfoundland Morning on Thursday morning.

"The only thing that's left is piles of shrimp that was in the cold storage, finished product, and mangled steel. It's burnt right down to the cement foundation."

Cause of fire uncertain

The fire appears to have started in the building's attic, Cabot said, because smoke was first seen from the roof.

Dredge was working inside the fish plant in Black Duck Cove on the Northern Peninsula when her fellow employees smelled smoke. They fled the building in a hurry, and stood and watched as flames shot through the ceiling within 20 minutes.

It just wasn't safe to even try to fight the fire, really. - Clifford Cabot

Cabot said he wasn't among the first at the scene, but that members of the local volunteer fire brigade arrived within five minutes of getting a call about smoke at the plant. By the time they arrived, they could already see smoke and flames coming out through the roof, he said.

"Within an hour and a half, there was nothing left," Cabot said.

Several local fire departments responded, but there was little that could be done to save the Gulf Shrimp plant, an old wooden building. Cabot thanked the fire teams from Plum Point and Flowers Cove who came quickly to assist.

Dredge said the plant uses several dangerous chemicals, such as ammonia, and has propane tanks around the premises. Those chemicals resulted in several explosions during the fire and contributed to the need for an evacuation, Cabot said.

"It just wasn't safe to even try to fight the fire, really," he said.

"Whatever we had on site that was pressurized, pretty much, exploded, flew in the air.

What happens next?

The plant had just started production for the season two weeks ago, and employed 65 union workers, plus some management, Dredge said.

It was once a popular plant before the cod moratorium dealt a death blow to the industry in 1992.

Six years later, it was refitted to handle shellfish and began processing shrimp and crab. It's owned by a partnership between Robin Quinlan and Quin-Sea Fishers.

It was reopened around the same time as the Quinlan Brothers operation in Bay de Verde, which burned down in 2016.

In Bay de Verde, Quinlan Brothers committed to reopening, and had a new building up within a year.

Dredge hopes the same will happen in Black Duck Cove.

"We want our shrimp back. We want our plant back," she said. 

Gulf Shrimp Limited, which is jointly owned by QuinSea Fisheries Limited and Quinal Brothers Limited, reiterated Thursday afternoon its employees are its top priority. 

"We know this will be challenging for our employees but at times like this, we know we can overcome even the greatest of threats when we collectively are determined to do so."

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