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SABRI processes mussels for last time

Keith Pilgrim dumps a box of mussels into the processor.
Keith Pilgrim dumps a box of mussels into the processor.

ST. LUNAIRE-GRIQUET, NL — The plant in St. Lunaire-Griquet has processed its last run of mussels for the summer and, if no one purchases it soon, it might be closing forever.

Since late May, St. Anthony Basin Resources Inc. (SABRI) has been trying to sell the mussel farming operation they have operated for over 15 years. A cut to their shrimp allocation earlier this year has hurt SABRI’s revenues, rendering continued operation of the farm financially unfeasible for the organization.

While interest has been expressed, no deal has been finalized and little time is left to complete the transaction that will allow the only mussel farming operation on the Northern Peninsula to continue.

The last batch of mussels went through the processor Thursday, Aug. 3, and now it may have to close for good.

Down at the plant Thursday morning, the three employees — Keith Pilgrim, Paul Burden, and Will Patey — were well aware they might be performing their final shift.

Pilgrim and Burden have been employed there for 14 years, Patey for nine. Prior to finding steady employment with SABRI, the three men called themselves, “displaced fishermen.” And, today, if the plant shuts down for good, it’s going to be harder to look towards the fishery for a career. Burden says, with all the recent cuts to quotas, he may now have to look out west for a job.

Pilgrim wasn’t optimistic about the plant’s future. He says if a deal isn’t reached soon, it’s going to be difficult to find anyone to take it over as SABRI has told them to remove the farming equipment from the water.

Student worker Jonathan Carroll (left) and SABRI employee Will Patey monitors the mussels as they passes through the processor in St. Lunaire-Griquet on Aug. 3.

“We got mussels out there now, next year they’re going to be ready and the next year after,” he explained. “But, once we takes up all that product, cleans the water, that’s it for the farm. No one else is going to take it over then.”

According to Pilgrim, it would take four years to produce any mussels ready for the market with a new farm.

“You’re not going to buy this mussel farm and wait for four years for anything to be ready for market,” he added. “You wants deep pockets, and it’s not going to be worth it.”

He says, if they left the equipment in the water, it would provide the next operator a starting point to generate revenue from the get go.

Paul Burden puts the last sacks of mussels on ice.

Meanwhile, as the plant closed for the summer, St. Lunaire-Griquet kicked off its fourth annual Mussel Festival – held from Aug. 2-6. But, the future of the festival is up in the air along with the plant. Without any mussel production, it won’t continue in its present form.

However, Mayor Dale Colbourne, who is also a member of the Mussel Festival Committee, says if there isn’t a Mussel Festival, they will continue with a summer festival in its place.

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