FOGO ISLAND, NL – Embrace change, or fall by the way side.
That was Phil Barnes’ message at Fogo 2067 when speaking about maintaining a sustainable future for Fogo Island’s fishing industry.
Most of the island’s fishers are 55 years of age and older. Approximately 75 per cent of the 144 workers at the island’s three plants in Fogo, Joe Batt’s Arm and Seldom are 50-plus years old. Furthermore, erosion of raw material through quota cuts means less product to process.
These stats alone paint a grim future for the next 50 years if nothing changes.
But Barnes, general manager of the Fogo Island Fisheries Co-operative Society Ltd., is still optimistic.
The co-op has implemented an aggressive off-island raw material recruitment plan, and an on-island raw material stabilization plan to maintain product supply. It continues to seek other species to replace those in decline – the establishment of sea cucumber and scallop processing being key examples.
To engage new harvesters, exploration of a Fogo Island Fishery Academy is underway. Curriculum is currently being developed for students at the high school level to offer a better understanding of the fishery and to build interest in getting into the fishery.
In maintaining plant operations, Barnes noted recruitment from shuttered plants around the province has been taking place.
He also spoke of immigration and new technology to maintain production lines.
“I don’t think you can do it with temporary foreign workers, because it’s too expensive and it’s about ensuring continued hours,” he said. “With immigration, we get people coming into the communities to work and live, so we need to work with government, municipalities to get a plan in place.”
In streamlining production, one such item Barnes spoke of was a flexicut trimmer, which would section cod fish after being filleted.
When questioned about technology eliminating jobs at the plant, “it’s eliminating what we don’t already have,” Barnes said.
“We are understaffed, operating at 50 per cent and 60 per cent capacity. These machines are not going to replace, it’s going to augment (production)… as far as I’m concerned, it’s more advanced technology so it’s going to employ more highly skilled people in the future for better paying jobs.”
The co-op also recently outlined a five-year development plan focusing on diversification within the fishery. The plan includes building tours of the facility, a fish market, seal processing and secondary processing, as well as procurement, enhancing current operations, expansion and member benefits.
“If Fogo Island is going to be here for another 50 years, we’ve got to change with the times,” said Barnes.