The couple that seasonally runs the seafood processing plant at the end of the Queen Charlotte Causeway on Haida Gwaii is raising money to buy the business, which they say is at risk of permanent closure due to COVID-19.
Tom and Michelle Argue started a GoFundMe campaign this month to raise $60,000 and secure the facility many residents know as Albion Fisheries, which amalgamated with Intercity Packers in April 2019.
“This facility processes safe, quality seafood for the surrounding communities, including sport fish, commercial fish for resale and local food programs,” the couple wrote on the campaign page. “Unfortunately the parent company has made the difficult decision to close us permanently as a result of the pandemic. We are unfortunately unemployed and the plant closure impact will be significant.
“We are reaching out in the hopes we can generate enough funds to secure this facility and keep this business alive and supporting our community.”
Speaking to the Observer by phone on June 7, Tom said the seasonal plant normally opens in April and he and Michelle are rehired to run it. However, due to the effects of the novel coronavirus, “this year [they] weren’t able to open at all.”
“Everybody’s doing what they have to do to survive,” hesaid. “We just happen to be a casualty of that.”
If their fundraising campaign is successful, Tom said he and Michelle would buy the business from Intercity Packers and reopen the plant under a new name, carrying on operations as the new owners.
They are also hoping to talk to a bank about helping to finance the transaction and have been looking into other avenues as well.
“We’re knocking on every door. We’re looking at every grant, every loan,” Tom said.
However, he also noted they are finding they do not qualify for some government assistance, since it is targeted toward existing businesses.
The former operations supervisor said keeping the plant open would mean they can continue to process seafood for local communities and emphasized its closure would mean the loss of more jobs than their own.
While the primary function of the plant is to offload commercial fisheries and process sport fish — he said there are local charter guides that use their services exclusively — they also process seafood for Haida fishers and introduced a program last year that allows fishers to donate their catch for hospital meals.
“We want to save what’s there. There’s so much impact,” he said. “If that goes away for seafood processing all those charter guys who operate in Charlotte, where are they going to take their fish?
“Currently we’ve already got a commercial boat out fishing that is now landing in Prince Rupert instead of locally … That fish is out of the community completely.”
The Village of Queen Charlotte shared the Argues’ campaign on social media on June 5, prompting one resident to ask how the business would sell fresh seafood to local communities.
Tom told the Observer the plant was already selling as much local fish as it could — almost always frozen — by attending the farmers market throughout the summer as well as selling directly to locals and tourists from the facility.
“We were doing that and we would want to continue doing that,” he said.
Tom added it would be “a very complicated process to try and keep a little bit of fresh” seafood for local resale.
“The fresh demand is reasonably limited. We have a limited population size,” he said. “Yes people want fresh, but do they want fresh on a day that we happen to have fresh?
“I would absolutely look at it if there was something we could do that would make sense, but logistically it doesn’t make sense.”
At the time of publication, the campaign had raised under $700.
The Observer has reached out to Intercity Packers for comment.
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