First season success for Minigoo Fisheries

As the local spring lobster fishing season drew to a close at the end of June, Jon Osmann Aranson, CEO of Minigoo Fisheries on Prince Edward Island, breathed a sigh of relief that his staff had survived a “mad few weeks” processing lobster 24 hours a day. This same scenario played out in plants across Atlantic Canada, but at Minigoo there was a big difference — the company did not exist just a year ago.

“In July last year I was introduced to Darlene Bernard, chief of the Lennox Island First Nation on PEI, who gathered a few people together to see if a lobster processing factory could provide employment and opportunities for local people, and be a profit making venture,” said Aranson.

Since First Nation treaty negotiations gave aboriginal people the right to hold lobster fishing licences, many have taken up the opportunity to fish. What they lacked was a dedicated outlet for their lobster. Sensing an opportunity to help her people, and impressed with the foresight and energy of Aranson, Bernard handed him the reigns and set a 1 March deadline for completion of the project, when the next season was due to open.

The following nine months were a blur of activity, as Aranson and his team helped to put together a finance package, drew up plans for a 20,000 square-foot state-of-the-art processing unit, sourced equipment, supervised the building, recruited and trained staff and secured supplies from local fishermen and non-First Nation fishermen.  “It was challenging, but we did it,” said Aranson.

The bulk of the landings, around 80 percent, come in the first four weeks of the fishery, which puts enormous pressure on any processing facility. “It took a little while to get everything running smoothly, but I am really pleased with the way it all went,” said Aranson.

For the next few months, Minigoo will source lobster off island, until the fall fishery starts. “We aim to process until Christmas time, when there is always huge demand,” said Aranson. “We will then have a quieter period to concentrate on expanding our markets and looking at value-added products.”

Initially, the factory is processing 80 percent of its lobster in popsicle/brine packs, aimed at prime markets in the United States, European Union and Asia, with the remainder mainly IQF tails. “We don’t want to be all things to everyone but aim to work with partners in these key markets to develop new products and new opportunities,” said Aranson. “We intend to be known as a reliable supplier of high quality, sustainable products, and our processing line has been designed to facilitate that.”

Minigoo’s freezing plant uses a glycol heat transfer system, which is highly efficient and enables product to be brought down to temperature after cooking far more quickly than other systems. “This has a beneficial effect on quality which has already been noted by our customers,” he explained.

Sales are being handled by experienced lobster marketer Dana Drummond of HyWater Fine Foods, who reports a very positive response to Minigoo products. “The factory is set up to run on a ‘process to order’ schedule with a maximum of 25,000 pounds per day. This is designed to avoid heavy inventory build-ups and avoid cash flow problems and puts the onus on the sales team to generate plenty of forward orders,” said Drummond.

The plant runs at full capacity with around 70 workers, one-third of whom are from the First Nation, and Aranson aims to recruit and train more as the plant develops.

The opening of Minigoo Fisheries was an historic day for Bernard. “We have the first ever lobster processing facility to be wholly owned and operated by a First Nation in Atlantic Canada, which is a tremendous achievement,” she said. “The effort put in by everyone to get it going has made me very proud, because it has given our community a real opportunity to prosper.”

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