Charlesville Fisheries Ltd.: Maintaining Stake in Nova Scotia’s Ground Fish Industry

Charlesville Fisheries Ltd. (Charlesville Fisheries) is one of Nova Scotia’s few remaining mobile-gear ground-fishing companies. Companies have fallen by the wayside and most are now fishing out of Pubnico Harbour – the home port of Charlesville Fisheries.

While the number of companies ground-fishing has decreased, the market competition has not. However, Charlesville Fisheries is holding its ground as a leading provider of haddock, cod and red fish to markets in Canada and the United States.

Raymond Belliveau, president of Charlesville Fisheries, grew up in the fishing industry and founded the company of his life-long dream in 1980. Belliveau has stuck to his passion, growing the fishery year after year. Charlesville Fisheries now maintains a fleet of vessels for harvesting ground fish, including haddock, cod and redfish.

The product is brought to the company’s eight-acre processing site, where fish are dressed, weighed and distributed to various markets. Charlesville Fisheries boasts five on-site buildings to handle the growing operation.

The fishery employs approximately 25 full-time employees; in addition, Belliveau remains active in the day-to-day operations to ensure business is running smoothly. “We are based in Pubnico Harbour, however, we fish mainly on George’s Bank and Brown’s Bank,” he explains. “We also have four of our vessels fishing for Silver Hake in eastern Nova Scotia, which is based out of East Jeddore.”

According to Belliveau, dragging for ground fish requires a net that is dragged along behind the vessel. “We use draggers for ground fishing,” he details. “That’s what most fleets use now-a-days.” This method will hopefully result in a large catch for the vessel. Sometimes ground-fishing also fetches other fish and sea creatures that vessels are required to throw back – an issue that has been the target of many environmentalists – but Belliveau knows how to navigate more than just waters.

“There’s not much we do different than anyone else,” says Belliveau. “We just keep reinvesting in the company and keep buying to replenish whatever the DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada] takes away from us.”

Active in the Industry

It has become increasingly important to be involved in the industry with such a small community of fisheries competing in a large global market. This effort includes memberships in associations that help boost safety standards and advocate for the working waterfront.

To ensure his company succeeds, Belliveau has taken his role above and beyond the norm; he is a proud member of the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia (FSANS) as a harvester representative. FSANS is set up to enhance safety measures that will attract new employees to the industry and maintain the health of existing employees. Work by the association is also aimed at reducing accidents or injuries on the job.

Through membership in the FSANS and participation on the board of directors, Belliveau is ensuring his company’s success. His firsthand perspective of ground fishing helps the association create and execute training and educational sessions. This not only helps with safety and accident prevention, but also enables additional research, communication, awareness and advocacy for the industry.

Charlesville Fisheries is also listed as one of about 60 seafood companies and associates as members of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association (NSFPA). The association provides assistance to members, including representation on the DFO advisory committee and two main consultative committees with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

In addition to the ground-fish aspect of Charlesville Fisheries, Belliveau has expanded the company’s reach. The company’s division, Harbour Twine Ltd. (Harbour Twine), builds trawl nets and sells assorted fishing supplies to Charlesville Fisheries’ vessels, as well as other independent harvesters.

Balancing Business and Quotas

“The challenges have really been with declining quotas,” Belliveau says. “Everyone’s going for the same thing and the DFO keeps cutting our quota.

According to Belliveau, the DFO maintains an annual Canadian Atlantic Quota Report for catches in Atlantic regions based on an April 1 to March 31 fishing season. Reports of catch are used to determine annual quotas, or limits, set on varieties of fish caught by commercial fishermen. “The DFO uses mainly surveys conducted by DFO vessels to determine quota limits for upcoming seasons,” he says. “The DFO always use vessel landings to set these quotas.”

Belliveau admits this is the biggest challenge for Charlesville Fisheries. “We’re sticking to what we know how to do,” Belliveau continues. “Whenever an opportunity comes up to buy out somebody’s quota though, we can’t turn that down and we’ll keep doing that.”

In order to make up the difference of what Charlesville Fisheries is allowed to catch and what the company needs to sell to be profitable, the company buys fish (quotas) from other vessels. The company also added a lobster pound on the property.

This addition of a holding facility for lobsters caught off the coast allowed some of Charlesville Fisheries’ fleet to dedicate time to hauling traps. Recently, the company has cut back on lobster fishing and leased the facility out to other lobster buyers.

Between declining quotas and increasing fuel prices, Belliveau reports his company faces a lot of challenges. However, diversification and persistence has helped the fishery to continue leading the industry. Belliveau expects that Charlesville Fisheries Ltd. will continue holding ground in the Nova Scotia fishing industry for years to come.