When C B Island Fisheries stepped up to process sport-caught fish this spring, it saved a half-dozen jobs from swimming away off-island.
That is one reason why not only people in Masset but several other Haida Gwaii villages nominated CBI for this year’s Masset Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
“They greatly expanded this year,” says Masset Mayor Andrew Merilees, who presented the award last week to CBI General Manager Al Frick.
After 22 years in business, CBI is a “heartstone” business that goes to Masset’s origins as a fishing community, said Merilees, but this year they took a new and much-needed turn when Haida Wild, the only other fish processor in Masset, stopped handling sport-caught fish this spring.
Al Frick, who has managed CBI for 12 years, said moving into sport fish was CBI’s first foray into custom processing, and it also opened the door to do more value-added work for commercial suppliers. With the extra work, CBI added another half-dozen seasonal jobs and had about 50 workers at the peak of the season.
“Every job on island here is important, it doesn’t matter who is doing it,” Frick said.
“It’s kind of sad to see the volume of fish caught in areas around Haida Gwaii, and the small percentage of it coming to the islands.”
A commercial fish buyer and processor, CBI handles troll-caught salmon, halibut, cod, Dungeness crabs, razor clams, and frozen-at-sea tuna.
“It takes a little bit of everything to keep the place going,” said Frick, laughing. “One is as important as the other, but looking at our overall poundage, troll-caught salmon is our mainstay.”
Frick said probably less than three per cent of the fleet is made up of Haida Gwaii boats these days — most come up from Vancouver Island. And the high cost of licences and boats presents big barriers for any young fishers trying to strike out on their own.
“Unless you’ve got some deep pockets or financial backing, it’s pretty tough getting in the game,” Frick said.
For Haida Gwaii processors too, the market isn’t easy — fuel and operating costs are higher here than for processors further south.
Still, being right in the middle of the fishing grounds gives CBI some advantage, and new licences are helping the Haida fleet to grow back a bit.
“It’s nice to see the local fleet growing here — it’s at a very slow rate, but the more people that participate locally, the more product we’re going to get locally to process.”
Last season marked the pilot year for a Haida “mosquito fleet” of small boats targeting Coho salmon. Unfortunately, the fishery started just after the Coho made an usual switch to waters further offshore — whether it was caused by ocean temperature changes, or a lack of northwest wind to bring bait fish in, it made for a slow start.
“We’re hoping next year that we’re going to see a lot more Coho in the shallow water here, so they get a better opportunity to bring product in for Haida Wild and us both,” said Frick, adding that overall Coho numbers were strong this year, as were salmon prices, which nearly made up for a 40 per cent drop in the Chinook fishery.
Frick said CBI appreciates everyone who nominated them for this year’s award, and they were glad to move successfully into a new area of business.
“I hate to see jobs leaving the island,” he said. “That’s my primary concern here, to keep people here working.”
Now in year five, earlier winners of Masset’s Entrepreneur of the Year award include The Ground Gallery & Coffee Shop, Atwell Family Foods, North Beach Surf Shop, and Charters Restaurant.