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Brown's Bay Packing -- Value and Vision in Food Processing

 "I worked in the oil sands and we had many people on the ground. It was installing big equipment. There was $2.7 billion dollars of equipment waiting to be assembled when I arrived. And it was innovative design." The money was great working in Alberta but the Halls were busy raising a family and the commute to Fort Mac made it difficult. It was time to turn to food processing seafood.

He knew opportunities existed on Vancouver Island, where Hall's career in facilities management began at a pulp and paper mill operating in Campbell River (from the 1950s until 2010). One of those opportunities knocked in Port Hardy in the burgeoning fish farm industry sustaining the lives of so many people on North Vancouver Island.

"They called me to be maintenance manager at a processing plant in Port Hardy." It would be commuting, just not as far. "I was one year as maintenance manager, one year as operations manager, and seven years as processing director." He engaged in project development at facilities operating on Vancouver Island up the coast, and down in the Lower Mainland. One project called for transition of a remote facility from processing whole fish to producing 'value added' product at a smoking plant.

"They needed a commercial grade kiln made in France, portioning machinery, and vacuum packing machinery. It sustains approximately 20 solid jobs." Hall watched changes take place in small communities with the jobs and investment. He knows first-hand fish farming and fish and seafood processing has been a huge investment in the 'social capital' (human resources) of remote communities on Vancouver Island and along the coast of British Columbia.

Don Millerd established Brown’s Bay Packing in 1989, the fish industry on the west coast being part of his family's immense Canadian heritage. Dave Stover of Campbell River is co-owner of Brown's Bay Packing. "Dave and I grew up in Campbell River," says Hall, "playing sports together. A year and half ago, Dave and Don approached me about the position at Brown's Bay Packing."

It was an easy decision to make. Hall's wife has a career in Campbell River, their daughter is enrolled at a local high school and their son attends university in eastern Canada. The commute from Campbell River to Port Hardy was taking its toll. "I joined a good team," Hall says, "They base decisions on value and vision, value for the employees and vision for the direction the company is taking." 

Hall brought organizational and financial goal-setting skills to day-to-day operations. "Our personnel comes from a lot of places, Campbell River, Comox Valley, and small towns and First Nation communities on the north island." He calls it an inclusive workforce meeting the everyday challenges of delivering fresh processed fish to the markets of Canada, USA, and Asia.

Canada is obviously an advanced economy, and Hall has played a role in keeping industries at the forefront of economic development, as his curriculum vitae attests. (He is a graduate of the UBC Sauter School of Business.) "We need people who think differently in a changing economy," says Hall. Brown's Bay Packing works throughout the year producing 100 percent fresh Atlantic salmon head on, gutted, graded, and boxed in ice.

Shifts run from 6 a.m. when the first ship arrives with the harvest, and stops anywhere from noon to 3 p.m.. A fish packing vessel delivers fish to be processed at 37,000 lbs per hour up to 42,000 lbs per hour. The Atlantic salmon weigh out at 5 kg packed after processing. The Brown's Bay Packing produce is delivered 70 percent to the USA, 25 percent to Canada, and 5 percent to Asia. Everything arrives at its market destination with 24 to 48 hours.

No discussion of economic activity in the world today can pass without discussing Covid-19's debilitating impact. "We are an essential service, even so, Covid-19 caused the fish marketing industry to pivot away from the food services industry to the retail market. We haven't missed a beat since March 2020. We implemented Covid-19 protocols for our employees and the people who deliver fish and pick up fish for transport. We hired extra cleaning staff. We have regular updates on rules and regulations respecting Covid-19 protocols. We have lunch room rules.

"We are situated on three quarters of an acre, so it's not a huge space. We have a highly automated processing floor, and it has always been safety first. Our people are conscious of the new rules. We promote a philosophy of care and concern. You know, in the old days, somebody might last 10 years in the grueling work conditions of a fish plant. Now they can make a life-long career with a reduced risk of injury and burn-out."

Being declared an essential service helped Brown's Bay Packing weather the Covid-19 pandemic storm thus far. "The fish farms have fish to get out to market. The freight companies have adjusted the logistics with BC Ferries and others. Flights to Canada, USA, and Asia depart nightly delivering our fresh fish." No mean feat to deliver fresh food during a global pandemic. The workforce at Brown's Bay Packing are proud of it and deservedly so.


Fisheries and Aquaculture news and feature stories

Vancouver Island's Stephen Hall pursued a career in operational management in heavy industries and infrastructure, working at the heart of operations like pulp and paper mills, oil sands plants, net-pen fish farm sites, and fish processing plants. Jobs have taken him to remote coastal waters in B.C., remote wilderness in B.C. forests, and the vast oil sands of northeast Alberta. Today Stephen Hall is Chief Operating Officer of Brown's Bay Packing of Campbell River, B.C..

Brown's Bay Packing, he will say, is a nice fit for this family man because the career path started in Campbell River.

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