Fire at Royal Greenland seafood plant adds to shrimp industry’s woes in Quebec

Crews responding to a fire at the Fruits de mer de l'Est du Québec processing plant
Crews responding to a fire at the Fruits de mer de l'Est du Québec processing plant | Photo courtesy of Pascal Bérubé/X
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A Royal Greenland-owned seafood-processing facility in Matane, Quebec, Canada has been declared a total loss after a fire hit the facility just days before the company announced its closure. 

The Fruits de mer de l'Est du Québec processing plant was affected by a fire on 30 March, just 12 days after local media Mon Matane reported the facility would be closed permanently by Royal Greenland. The cause of the fire is still unknown, but the CBC reported provincial police have taken over investigating the fire.

Royal Greenland said that long-term declines in shrimp quotas, coupled with increasing costs to manage the processing plant, meant operating the plant was no longer sustainable. A strategic business review led to the decision to close the plant. 

Royal Greenland said in a release after the fire that it had planning to sell the facility. 

“The sale process was in its initial stages with negotiations taking place,” the company said. “We are committed to transparently communicating with all stakeholders, including potential buyers, as we assess the implications of this incident on the sale process.”

The fire is just the latest challenge faced by the shrimp industry in the region. Stocks of northern shrimp have been steadily decreasing, and in January, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced that the total shrimp quota in the Gulf of St. Lawrence would be just 3,060 metric tons (MT), a fraction of the 14,500 MT quota handed out in 2023. 

The 2023 quota itself was less than half the 35,000 MT quotas that were the norm as recently as 2015.

Scientists with the DFO told the Montreal Gazette that the culprit of dwindling stock is rising ocean temperatures, which is forcing populations farther north. DFO Scientist Marie Julie Roux told the newspaper that as waters continue to warm, the species will become “commercially extinct” in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with small numbers still surviving but at levels too low to be commercially viable.

The negative trends for Quebec shrimp mirror those of the shrimp industry in the bordering U.S. state of Maine. The shrimp fishery in Maine had its last commercial fishing season in 2013 and has been closed ever since. The culprit there was low stock biomass and low recruitment due to environmental changes.

Despite the decline in shrimp, Minister of Parliament Kristina Michaud told the CBC the Matane community had hoped the plant could have been resurrected to process a separate species. 

"There's a crisis right now in the fisheries industry, but we're trying to do as much as we can to save it because there are a lot of jobs on the line for people in our community,” she said.

However, the loss of the plant is effectively a death knell for the shrimp industry in Matane, MP Pascal Bérubé said.

"We're having a hard time recovering from the shock of this closure,” he said.  

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