Pêcherie Manicouagan Inc.
The St. Lawrence River spills into the Atlantic near the north shores of Quebec, creating an estuary that is home to an abundance of fresh seafood unlike anywhere on earth. The waters produce everything from whelk to snow crab, lobster to halibut, arctic surf clams, shrimp, turbot and more. In Baie-Comeau, Quebec, Pêcherie Manicouagan Inc. has harvested this bounty since 1983, supplying fresh seafood to local markets and international customers alike.
Pêcherie Manicouagan now runs five retail fish markets that offer customers a complete range of fresh seafood products in season. “Our main product is snow crab,” details Janita Gagnon, retail division marketing manager and owner’s daughter at Pêcherie. “We generally process around 6 million pounds of snow crab in two to three months. We’re one of Quebec’s largest seafood processors. Our plants are BRC certified and Les Crabiers Du Nord is one of the most mechanized in the province.”
Evolving into a major player
The company’s modernization stems from a long-running regional history. Pêcherie was established in 1983 by Gilles Gagnon and Jacquelin Savard as a small retail counter in Baie-Comeau. “Things started as a small retail store and then followed a restaurant and the processing plant where production started,” recounts Gagnon.
In order to expand its distribution network, Pêcherie acquired the assets of Nor-Fishing Escoumins. Following this acquisition the third retail storefront appeared in Escoumins, also home of the company’s restaurant. Expansion continued in 1992 with the purchase of Fish B. Tremblay in St-Anne de Portneuf on the upper North Shore; the same location of Pêcherie Manicouagan’s main plant.
As the retail counter gained more regular customers, Pêcherie managed to break into the restaurant business, followed by a processing plant. In 1990, a standardized marine products packaging plant was built to redistribute incoming product to other industrial fisheries and restaurants throughout the North Shore of Quebec. “We now have five retail stores, a restaurant and two processing plants, one of which is 125,000 square feet” says Gagnon.
Since diversifying Pêcherie has been active in wholesale and retail fish markets with an extensive distribution network. “We’re now shipping to the U.S., Japan, China –growing protein markets,” details Gagnon. “Our first objective is to supply the North Shore market, but we produce so much that we have to sell globally. Approximately 75 percent of our business is international and 25 percent is supplying local markets. We’re working on expanding distribution to other parts of Europe as well and garnering more business in Ontario and parts of western Canada.”
Les Crabiers du Nord, a BRC-certified operation located in Portneuf-Sur-Mer, is known for high-quality production and timely processing, allowing fresh products to reach the consumer faster. “We can reach Quebec retail locations in 24 hours from boat to table,” notes Gagnon. “This level of service sets us apart; how quickly we can deliver fresh fish. This makes the quality of our product superior to our competitors.”
Over the years, Pêcherie has established close relationships with transportation companies, who serve the company exclusively. “They come to the North Shore only for us,” says Gagnon. “We process during the day and as soon as that’s finished, they deliver at night. So the next morning the customer has the product as fresh as can be.”
Fresher seafood from boat to table
While the North Shore is known for snow crab, harvested from April to June in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Pêcherie also reels in a massive supply of surf clams, Atlantic and Greenland halibut, lobster, shrimp and scallops.
The region is also known for whelks found in the St. Lawrence River. Regarded by many as a delicacy, whelks are a mollusk with a coiled shell and cream-colored flesh with black spots. Whelk season runs from April to October, when Pêcherie catches and sells millions of pounds of the highly demanded delicacy.
But Gagnon says keeping pace with global demand can be a challenge. “Our plants are in small villages and our staff is getting older, nearing retirement,” she reveals. “We’re looking for young people to take their place, which is difficult in this remote area.” Gagnon adds that the company hopes to combat labor issues with a long-term goal of purchasing more automated equipment.
Until then, Pêcherie Manicouagan Inc. forages forward, doing what it does best – bringing seafood fresh from the world’s largest estuary in the Gulf of St. Lawrence direct to the table.