New international marine co-operative hopes to bring jobs, innovation to Quebec's Lower North Shore

A new international marine co-operative is building its headquarters in the tiny Lower North Shore village of St. Paul's River, where it hopes to bring jobs as it seeks to make the fishing industry more sustainable.

The International Blue Co-operative was founded earlier this month, and is made up of community leaders, researchers, policy makers and businesses from around the world, including Mexico, France and Australia.

Its goal is to promote sustainable marine practices, especially in remote communities. "We could be the hub of this and lead it," said president Kimberly Buffett.

Buffett wants to help local fishing communities diversify, away from their traditional food markets and move into cosmetics, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals.

The co-op, for instance, is trying to develop ways to turn more of the fish into consumer product.

Currently just 30 per cent of a cod is used, usually for fillets. But potentially as much as 80 per cent could be used to make leathers, collagen and other by-products, Buffett said.

Julia Page/CBC
Julia Page/CBC

The co-op will begin by working with local producers on the Lower North Shore to maximize their use of algae and sea cucumbers.

"We want to get to using 100 per cent of the product," Buffett said. "The fisherman will get a higher price because they're using all of the product — the shells of the crab or lobster — and we'll have more production jobs in remote areas."

Helping similar communities

The co-op is also focusing on how to scale up production processes. It plans to use its international contacts to help local fishermen connect with buyers and distributors around the world.

The ultimate goal, said Buffett, is job creation.

Buffett said the co-op project itself has been three years in the making. It grew out of the BioMarine Business Convention, where she and representatives from about 10 businesses worked on a maritime strategy for Quebec.

The co-op has received support from the Community Economic Development and Employability Corporation, a volunteer organization that supports job creation in Quebec, and the Coasters Association, a government-funded citizens group on the Lower North Shore.

Buffett said the co-op's work in St. Paul's River will help other places in similar circumstances: small, isolated communities that are often fly-in-fly-out, and which face significant transportation challenges.

"These are very underdeveloped territories, and we're really trying to raise that awareness to the rest of Canada to say 'look what you can do if you looked at what's really there,'" she said.

"And Canada has a lot of ocean."