From seafood to smokables: Newfoundland fish plant to be converted to cannabis

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Less fish, more 4/20 if one local entrepreneur has his way

Cannabis could be coming to the rescue of a Newfoundland fishing community that's been without an economic centre since Hurricane Igor laid waste to the area in 2010. 

Port Union's old Ocean Choice International fish plant could soon be used to plant marijuana. 

The disused building is in the final stages of a sale to local businessman Daniel Porter, who is planning to turn it into a cannabis growing facility for medicinal and recreational pot.

"This means the world to me," Porter said.

"I love that I can come home and create work and have an impact on the community … it affects people's lives and children's lives, and it creates a massive employment spinoff."

Between 70 and 100 jobs are envisioned for the plant, with a business plan to produce about 10,000 kg of cannabis each year. 

Hurricane Igor caused extensive damage in September 2010 in numerous communities, including Port Union.

Porter, who grew up on the Bonavista Peninsula, is excited by the possibility to rejuvenate the local economy by using the facilities available.

"I see major opportunity here," he said.  "I see a building that has a massive square footage — a fantastic old construction." 

While most of the old plant is made of steel and concrete, wooden parts will need to be replaced. 

"The building itself is very sound," Porter said.

An artist's rendering of the proposed new cannabis plant in Port Union.

Porter is planning to renovate the facility in stages so that he is able to begin production as soon as he is licensed.

"We're looking at a large ongoing renovation for the next couple years. We'll be in production hopefully before the renovation is finished," he said.

After Hurricane Igor, Ocean Choice International did some abatement to preserve the building, leaving much of the inside stripped down to studs. 

The renovation will be done according to Health Canada's standards, he added. 

Round-the-clock operation planned

The new business will operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, according to Porter.

Having a grow-op in Trinity Bay North was the furthest thing from our minds.- Shelly Blackmore

"The opportunity to bring employment back to this community is something I'm very proud of," Porter sad.

The Port Union area has been struggling for jobs since Hurricane Igor struck in September 2010, shutting down operation at OCI's shrimp processing plant.

Trinity Bay North Mayor Shelly Blackmore says there is real excitement in the community about the plan.

Shelly Blackmore, mayor of Trinity Bay North, is excited about the possibilities.

"Having a grow-op in Trinity Bay North was the furthest thing from our minds," she said. 

"We were thinking about what it had been used for previously. We were thinking about seasonal employment," she said.

Blackmore said many people are embracing the idea, and have been asking questions about where to drop resumes and what a starting salary might be. 

Residents, she added, are "really pleased that it's a 52-week-a-year operation." 

In its day, the Port Union plant was one of the largest fish processing facilities in the province.

Peggy White, who works on temporary contracts at the Sir William Ford Coaker Foundation, is hoping for something more sustainable in employment.

"We were a force to reckon with and then there were different shutdowns in the fishery and the seal industry," she said. "We were hit hard, and of course [then there was] Hurricane Igor in 2010."

​High hopes for a historic fishing town

Nearly eight years after Igor, Port Union residents have an eye on a new economic hub.  

"I'm looking forward to us now being again a major player in the economy in the region," she said.

Peggy White, who works with the Sir William Ford Coaker Foundation, is hoping to see more sustainable employment in the future. Her own work comes from temporary contracts based on short-term funding.

"I really hope that it comes here," White said. 

"If it doesn't come here it's going to go somewhere else, and so we need the jobs as well as other communities," said White, who worked as a casual worker for OCI before the hurricane struck. 

"I really don't mind what the facility is, as long as it brings jobs."

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