Pêcheries Belle Ile Fisheries Ltd.
Since 1989 Pêcheries Belle Ile Fisheries Ltd. has been providing high quality seafood processing and packaging services to an international market. Based in Sainte-Marie – Saint Raphael, New Brunswick, the business is fully owned by local fishermen.
Approximately 90 percent of the business is comprised of the processing and packaging of snow crab, 8 percent is dedicated to herring and the remaining 2 percent is contract packing and processing of other seafood items. The company’s largest market for crab is the United States, followed closely by Japan. All of the company’s herring is packed for the Japanese market.
Built in 1972, the company’s plant originally operated as M.O. Duguay Fish Product Ltd., a cod and herring processing operation. The business introduced snow crab into production in 1981 as one of only a few plants dealing in the species.
M.O. Duguay sold the business in 1989 to a group of fishermen-shareholders, thus launching Pêcheries Belle Ile. In 2004, another group of shareholders named Group Belle Ile Inc. was put into place and joined the company to form the board as it is known today.
In the years since, the company has kept growing, increasing in size and production volume. The business is now affiliated with another plant in Bas-Caraquet, Pêcheries Baie Chaleurs Fisheries (2012) Inc., taken on in 2009. In total volume production, the Groupe Belle Ile leads snow crab production in northern New Brunswick.
Built for efficiency
Pêcheries Belle Ile boasts a strong management team. After more than 30 years in the industry, M. Jean-Pierre Hébert retired and is proud to hand the lead to Me Marc R. Guignard as the new general manager of the operation. Guignard comes from a family of fishermen and has always been close to the industry, beginning as a crab fisherman during his university years. Guignard has remained close to the fisheries and the industry practicing law for now over 20 years. His nomination was a natural fit and the management team is pleased to welcome him on board.
“I will continue the good work of my predecessor and also will make the company benefit of the experience I have”, says Guignard. He intends to work closely with the excellent team already in place: Adam Chiasson, sales and quality manager, Laurie Robichaud, operations manager and Yoland Chiasson, finance manager.
“We will work as a team” he says. “We know we can rely on each other. We will work hard and will achieve good result making the company stronger”. At peak season, the leadership works with as many as 200 employees or more.
The company’s main processing facility is located in Sainte-Marie-Saint-Raphael. The team also has an ice plant located in the Shippagan Warf as well many buying points across the Maritimes.
As far as the main plant goes, Pêcheries Belle Ile prioritizes top-of-the-line technology. The business is perpetually investing in modernized equipment to maintain efficiency and provide improved value for customers. “Without any doubt, we are the most modernized snow crab plant in the area,” says Yoland. “We are really proud of our plant. For this, we can only be thankful to our shareholders. They made the final decision to invest that much money into the plant.” The company has been able to achieve higher throughput without increasing staff or jeopardizing the operation’s high standards of quality.
Technical investments have also allowed the company to better serve the changing demands of customers. The current market leans toward smaller packaging and Pêcheries Belle Ile has the flexibility to change the format of packaging to meet client demands. With a new modern freezing capacity, the team is ready to continue to development of new products and markets. This may soon include products beyond the scope of seafood.
While the company has spent time and capital in building efficiencies, Robichaud says there are still challenges to overcome. For example, the labor pool is not as broad as it once was. This drives efficiency forward by requiring Pêcheries Belle Ile to find ways to do more with less. It also makes relationships with employees even more important. The management team strives to balance the needs and expectations of customers with the happiness, safety and all-around well-being of loyal employees.
On top of the labor shortage, Pêcheries Belle Ile is constantly contending with a challenging supply chain. “Snow crab is fished in about an 8-week period,” says Yoland. “This is a game of volume so if you want to have your fair share of the pie, you have to be able to produce as much volume as possible. Our staff and technological capabilities allow us to maximize production while maintaining quality and safety.”
Being owned by a group of fishermen makes a big difference in supply stability. The owners are highly invested in the success of Pêcheries Belle Ile, fostering an environment of communication. As demand grows for snow crab, the team consistently stands apart in volume, quality and resources. The company’s trademark C-Gem is now ranked among the top brands in Japan.
Pêcheries Belle Ile maintains excellent long-term relationship with brokers. “They are not only our clients – we consider them as business partners more than anything,” Adam notes. “We are going once or twice a year to Japan to meet them and to meet their customers. In addition, Japanese brokers are inside the plant when we do snow crab. They don’t miss one single day of production. We are also traveling to the U.S. with some frequency to build our relationships there.”
Over the coming years, Pêcheries Belle Ile Fisheries Ltd. will continue to expand into new markets with new products, providing quality seafood and excellent service while building lasting relationships with clients and suppliers.