Quinlan Brothers Ltd. of Bay de Verde: A Family Legacy of Securing the Sea’s Best

In 1954 Maurice and Patrick (Pat) Quinlan of Red Head Cove bought the business of James F. O’Neill and, in due course, they built a relatively small fish plant on the waterfront. Even though fish had been caught and sold in a variety of ways since early settlement, this was the first fresh codfish processing operation in Bay de Verde. By the early 1960s the salt cod industry had virtually come to an end and, consequently, the fish plant became the mainstay of fishery in Bay de Verde. This was a seminal change in that all the labour attached to the salting and drying of fish was no longer necessary, as catches were simply offloaded from the boats into the fish plant and processed into frozen fillets. This trend was repeated all over Newfoundland during the 1960s.

Now, nearly 60 years later, Quinlan Brothers Ltd. of Bay de Verde (QBL) processes a variety of seafood and shellfish items, and remains a family business, employing its third generation of Quinlan. Pat continues to operate the business as president, managing it along with Robin Quinlan, vice president, Wayne Quinlan, manager, and Don Quinlan, secretary. Robin represents the third generation of the Quinlan family in the industry. “Together we work to manage our strategic expansion,” says Robin. QBL’s Bay de Verde processing operations represent the largest snow crab production facility in the world today.

Casting a Wide Network

The catch for QBL mostly includes snow crab and shrimp. It is processed and sold to customers in Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia. In the 1980s Pat founded Quin-Sea Fisheries (QSF), the second pillar of what is now known as The Quinlan Group of Companies (QGC). The companies work in a partnership and together the sales teams have built strong relationships with suppliers and customers all over the world.

QGC processes a hefty proportion of the Newfoundland fisheries quotas. QBL and QSF together employ around 2,000 people throughout the region, with 600 involved directly in QBL. The business has grown considerably. There are always new initiatives under way. “We have undergone extensive expansion in our processing capabilities over the past few years to keep up with the increasing supply,” says Robin. “When the fish arrives, you have to be able to handle it effectively and efficiently.”

The fishing industry is a very personal business. Processing companies rely on fish harvesters to bring in quality forms of raw material to be transformed by the hands of plant processing personnel. From there distributers rely on brand recognition, basically by consistent quality so that they may successfully navigate a global seafood sales network. “We are a seasonal business, there is little margin for error,” says Pat, who sums it up best by saying “to be successful, a seasonal company must run like a finely tuned Swiss watch.”

The fishery in Newfoundland is a relatively small canvass to conduct business. Most of the people on both the harvesting and processing sides are well known to one another. Successful longevity largely depends on the establishment of mutually beneficial business relationships. “Pat’s philosophy of honor and integrity runs deep within the family business,” says Robin. “The players within the Newfoundland seafood industry know him and respect him.” QBL is founded on these guiding principles and has resulted in a solid list of strategic partners – both in the plants and on the sea.

The seafood industry has certainly had its challenges. In 1992 there was a Northern Cod Moratorium called by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Thousands of people were out of work overnight. Newfoundland processing companies had to adapt quickly, switching to other species. The year 2012 marked the 20th anniversary of the Northern Cod decision, and yet QBL is still here and still strong.

Rising Tides

Continued, sustainable growth is the plan for the next few years at QBL. “The objective is to keep expanding our supply,” says Robin. “We’re trying to modernize our facilities. It’s important that we’re able to adapt very quickly to a changing market.” Outside of facilities expansion, QBL is involved in a number of research-and-development projects with the provincial government and other agencies. These developments have been a major focus of the company in 2012.

With such major growth, QBL and its sister company have grown to become one of the largest seafood processing operations in the country. Robin says the team is going to keep chugging away steadily, accommodating new growth and pursuing opportunities as they come. “We want to keep strengthening our relationships,” says Robin. This longstanding practice has benefited Quinlan Brothers Ltd. of Bay de Verde and its clients for three generations and will continue to benefit the team for many more years to come.