A year from now Hay River is expected to see a completed commercial fish plant after a soft ground-breaking for the project happened in early September.

Andrew Cassidy, GNWT Industry, Tourism and Investment manager of agriculture and fisheries said that processed fish should be available at this time next year, there is a lot of preparation work beyond construction between now and then.

“The schedule right now – and we seem to be on schedule – is that the fish plant should be operational in late fall 2022,” he said.

“We’re expecting (project) commissioning probably right around this time next year, hopefully, November but possibly later November 2022.”

The fish plant has been in development for more than five years with the intent that the Northwest Territories can market its own fish product, improve revenue for Northern commercial fishermen and ultimately rejuvenate the NWT’s fishing industry.

Since the seventies, the fish plant run by the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation but over time the commercial fishing industry has weakened, specifically with participation and volumes of catches decline.

“At one point that plant was fairly new and fairly modern and there was actually processing that took place,” Cassidy said. There was a filleting line there and people were employed to hand cut fillets. Over time the plant has become a place to deliver fish where it is repackaged in ice and shipped to Winnipeg where it is further processed.”

While the government admits there have been some false starts along the way and that the timing to begin this year hasn’t been ideal, the project is now underway after Arctic Canada Construction was given the design-build contract to construct the facility last May.

The structure is to be 1,600 square feet and the total cost of the project is expected to be close to $15 million when considering the building and all of the equipment needed to be purchased.

In October 2017, then Minister of Infrastructure Wally Schumann announced Hay River’s plan to build a new fish plant.

In January 2019, the Government of the Northwest Territories announced the $6.6 million from the federal government and over $2.2 million toward an $8.8 million project.

Cassidy said there had initially been a ribbon cutting ceremony planned but Covid-19 put a hold on gatherings.

“We were planning on it and we were going to kind of have a bigger event but then Covid hit Yellowknife and that kind of shut down that plan because there’s a lot of concern in the communities.”

The plant will include full processing capacity with automated filleting machines that will allow fresh cut fish fillets that local stores and restaurants may be interested in.

Labour challenges

Cassidy said the project has always expected there will be challenges with labour because fish processing is a rare skill and it will be no different with a more automated plant.

“Because it’s automated, that means certain new technology, new systems we’ll have to do a lot of training for for plant operators.So we hope to work with the Marine Training Center to develop training modules around the processing lines.”

Because the facility will be a federally inspected food processing facility under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a lot of regulatory preparation will have to be completed as well including quality assurance plans and quality control plans supported by proper staffing. ,

The Tu Cho Fishers Cooperative is responsible for managing and running the plant and will be responsible for hiring a general manager.

“That manager will be the one who sets the timeline as to when they do the training when they need to bring people on board,” he said.

Creation of new position

Since September, the department has also hired Richard Moore in a newly created commercial fishery analyst position. Moore comes from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and will be responsible for working directly with commercial fishermen.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa.. Simon can be reached at (867)...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.