Fish plants have been a cornerstone of rural Newfoundland and Labrador for so long that its easy to forget that they’re part of the global food industry. One challenge facing the food industry and the environment globally is food waste. In fact, a 2015 report from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations stated that “if food wastage were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country in the world”.
Like any food producer, fish plants have a responsibility to think about how they’re contributing to food waste, and how they can fully utilize the fish they buy.
Icewater Seafoods in Arnold’ Cove, NL, a member of the Offshore Fishery Association, has been a leader in this area for decades. The company sells 99.8% of the product it buys in some form. When cod is bought from a local fish harvester, only a small portion of that fish can be sold as cod fillets. The company produces various products in order to find uses and markets for as much of the fish as possible:
- Cod loins, portions and tails are sold primarily into European markets that demand high quality, sustainable seafood.
- Cod tongues and cheeks are removed from the head. They’re sold primarily in the Canadian market and are also very popular among locals who stop by the plant to buy cod*.
- The remainder of the cod is sold for various purposes, from fish sticks (or fish fingers as they’re called in most parts of Europe) to the leather and pharmaceutical industry. Some is even sold to the pet food and mink industry, which has the same high standards as human food, including a rigorous metal detecting process.
Icewater has had impressive utilization numbers for decades, driven by its values as a company and the tight margins of the cod industry.
“As a company, we’re proud that we’re able to utilize 99.8% of the cod we buy. It demonstrates our commitment to the environment, to our customers and to our employees,” explains Alberto Wareham, President & CEO of Icewater Seafoods.
Years ago, it was common practice for fish plants to dispose of waste through a barge behind the plant. Icewater Seafoods is committed to being a good environmental steward, keeping waste out of the ocean. So from an environmental perspective, the company’s efforts to find uses for all aspects of the fish not only eliminates food waste, but it means that waste is not directed back to the ocean.
That respect for the oceans that provide food and livelihoods for so many is recognized and appreciated by Icewater’s customers, especially those in Europe. Knowing they’re buying seafood from a company that shares their values, ethics and commitment to doing the right thing is important.
In addition to the environmental impact of food waste, there is an important financial impact. In many ways, reducing food waste has been key to Icewater’s ability to continue its operations with a year-round focus on only cod, despite ups and downs in the cod industry. Finding ways to service the pet food and pharmaceutical industries improves the viability of the Arnold’s Cove plant, helping to keep its 215 local employees working nearly year-round. It allows the company to pay its workers more than many plants, currently $17.09/hour for unionized workers, plus health benefits that includes life insurance. This commitment to the town and people of Arnold’s Cove is the foundation of which the company was formed when the Wareham family decided to officially take over the operation 15 years ago.
*Because of current health measures in place amid COVID-19, members of the public are not currently permitted to stop by the plant to purchase fish from its head office.