Worker shortage cutting into lobster processing capacity

Eric McCarthy
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ROSEBANK -- A West Prince seafood processor says he would be able to buy 50 per cent more lobster if he were able to fill all the spots on his processing line.

Lobster fishing

David Dalton said South Shore Seafoods, a company he co-owns in Bloomfield and Rosebank, has been advertising for workers all spring but is still operating well below capacity.

“We probably have hired everybody who applied,” Dalton said of the company’s effort to fill the processing line.

South Shore, he said, currently has about 85 workers between its raw product plant in Bloomfield and the processing plant in Rosebank. Dalton estimates he could easily accommodate 30 to 50 more workers.

Besides the shortage of available local workers, Dalton said the company has been experiencing difficulty acquiring help through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The company, Dalton said, only has about 40 per cent of the foreign workers it had last year despite a need for more. The only foreign workers on staff so far this season, he said, are ones who returned from last year; no new applications have been approved. “It’s just the (Temporary Foreign Worker) Program is not working,” Dalton said, indicating his company has been trying to work through the process since last fall. “There’s nobody being denied a job here because of foreign workers,” he emphasized. There has also been a bit of a gender shift on staff with more male workers than previously, he noted.

“If we had 50 per cent more workers, we could do 50 per cent more product,” Dalton said in explaining the impact of the job shortage.

The situation at South Shore seems to hold true across P.E.I. Dennis King, executive director of the Seafood Processors Association said a check of Island processing plants has found an overall shortage of about 400 plant workers, including applications for between 125 and 150 foreign workers that have yet to be filled.

Despite the shortage of workers, plants were managing to keep up with the supply of lobsters until catches improved a little over a week when the water temperature rose and lobsters started moving around more. Since then many fishermen have been placed on daily boat quotas and some fishermen have not being able to find sale for their catch at all.

“It’s been a challenging few days,” King acknowledged, but suggested the nasty weather at week’s end might actually relieve some of the glut and allow plants to start to catch up with the supply.

King said processors knew even before the season started there was going to be a worker shortage, but he suggested the situation was masked for the first three weeks when cooler than normal temperatures kept the catches down. “Then the weakness got exposed,” he added.

The worker shortage does not just affect the May and June fishing season here, Dalton said, indicating some plants, including South Shore, hope to continue processing right into October.

South Shore would be in position to hire even more workers next year once all of the raw product line gets shifted from Rosebank to Bloomfield, thereby opening up space for additional processing capacity in Rosebank, Dalton indicated.

Organizations: Seafood Processors Association

Geographic location: Rosebank, South Shore, Bloomfield

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Recent comments

  • ThatGuy
    June 09, 2014 - 10:12

    Come on folks....this is seasonal work at a fish processing plant and they're hiring new starts. I'm not sure why people are expecting to start at $13+ an hour. Plenty of people work for minimum wage or close to it and make the best of it. I'm sure if the EI situation here wasn't so cushy there'd be a few more applicants for those 250+ Islander positions.

  • Dave
    June 08, 2014 - 12:32

    Just throwing it out there.. but am I the only one thinking.. "perhaps this says something about the business you're running?" There are plenty looking for work, so why have they not applied?

  • Nick
    June 07, 2014 - 23:03

    What do they pay? Better than out west, or even E.I. or welfare?

  • Anonymous
    June 07, 2014 - 08:36

    We don't really feel sorry for you. For years now you have been bringing in foreign workers so the government pays half their wages. How do you expect people to work for the low wages you pay them. Now fishermen along with the others are working to get new buyers in here so fisherman will get a fare price for their lobster and avoid selling to processers who are putting fishermen out of business.

  • tired of same
    June 07, 2014 - 05:06

    if welfare and ei weren't so easy to get on pei most on either are working for cash or sitting on there rump while they buy there stamps or hubby gets them from lobster fishing

  • Adam
    June 07, 2014 - 00:08

    Increase the wages. I see the ads, $10-12 an hour, people can make that money working anywhere, and not smell like seafood all summer.

  • REAL SHORTAGE
    June 06, 2014 - 21:09

    There are enough workers just not enough processors willing to pay a decent wage. Pay decent wages and you will get the workers or join the gravy train with the restraurant owners and beg the Government to get you cheap foreign workers.

  • Al
    June 06, 2014 - 19:13

    With 10,000. People out of work on pei why can you get people?

    • UPWESTER
      June 07, 2014 - 07:01

      Because of EI. Islanders only want to work long enough to get their stamps and then lay back for 30 weeks.

    • because
      June 07, 2014 - 09:16

      because of poor wages you can't get people to work in fish plants.foreign workers are usually better and live together with low expenses and are better suited for this type of work.