WORK: Automation in the Fishing Industry

For many, the word ‘automation’ is synonymous with ‘loss of jobs.’ But for Gilbert Linstead, General Manager of the Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company (LFUSC), automation is the key to preserving Newfoundland and Labrador’s rural labour force, which he says is threatened by outmigration.

“We’ve been lucky so far to keep some younger people, but we see it,” says Linstead. “The
young people in Labrador just want more opportunities and to move forward.”

Linstead knows that job security is a major worry for the province’s young people.

“You wake up one morning and you’ve got a good report, we’re going to have a good fishery next year, it’s going to be substantial. Then you wake up the next morning and the government says no, it’s not there. So the uncertainty associated with it is what spins the wheel and there’s no way to keep up with it,” he explains.

It is only with the help of automation that Linstead believes he will be able to preserve
not only the jobs of those currently working at the five processing plants managed by LFUSC, but also the economic impact and employment spin-off effect those plants have on the region as a whole. If the plants do not take advantage of automated technology, they will be unable to keep up with the labour shortage.

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Managing Director of the St. John’s-based Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation (CCFI), Robert Verge, echoes this assessment.

“The fact is that all those baby boomers who came into the industry in the 1960s are moving into retirement,” Verge explains. “So each year in the industry we see that there are fewer people available to work. Automation is a way of increasing productivity and enabling payment of higher wages to attract the people we will need in the future.”

Automation can also make things safer and more efficient for the workers, and produce a better product. “The technology improves the quality of the fish,” says Linstead.

“Automation is a way of increasing productivity and enabling payment of higher wages to attract the people we will need in the future.”
– Gilbert Linstead, General Manager, LFUSC

Verge’s team was recently granted a patent for their snow crab extraction technology—a
sophisticated robot that quickly and cleanly removes the meat from the crab’s shell. Verge believes this technology will allow NL processing plants to remain competitive.

“We haven’t been producing meat here for decades. We catch fish and we send them out somewhere else, like China, for processing. But, if we were producing meat we could get extra value from our resource,” says Verge. “We have to do it with an automated system in order to have a cost that would be competitive in the market. We aren’t trying to reduce the number of jobs—we are going to create jobs.”

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