The seal industry goes back hundreds of years in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador, however, it is a new, local business which is looking at further developing the production of seal oil capsules — and they’re setting up in Shoal Harbour.
The Town of Clarenville approved a commercial application for the business at the Tuesday, Feb. 19, council meeting — pending no objections from a discretionary notice and full compliance with the town’s development regulations as well as provincial requirements.
The seal oil encapsulation and bottling facility is an enterprise called Ár n-oileán Resources Ltd. based out of St. John’s.
Ár n-oileán means “our island” in Irish Gaelic.
The location for the proposed facility is in the commercial space existing at 281-289 Balbo Drive, at the edge of the town’s boundary in Shoal Harbour. Ár n-oileán Resources Ltd. bought this building for the use.
In an interview with The Packet, Ár n-oileán Resources C.E.O. Kendall Flood says the business has been incorporated for three years, with work beginning a couple of years before that, looking to set up the nutraceutical encapsulation facility like what they’ve proposed in Shoal Harbour.
He says it started after talking to seal oil expert Chris Cotter, who presented interesting ideas on how to improve the production of seal oil.
He adds their method was tested by a third-party national research council and they’re happy with it.
“Once we found a product that worked, then we decided to see if we could make a business with it,” he said.
Flood explained they’ll have equipment to use gelatin to encapsulate and bottle the omega-3 seal oil.
“The facility is going to meet all pharmaceutical standards for air, water, filtration,” he says.
“It will be like a lab when you walk in. Everybody will be in gowns, lab coats, booties, the whole works.”
The oil refinery will be on site in the building, with necessary machines taking up a small amount of the overall space of the enterprise.
Flood says the refining aspect of the oil capsule production only inhabits about 400 square-feet of their total space.
“There’s no smokestack, there’s no chemicals,” he said. “It’s proprietary methods for separating the oil. And even then, it’s only going to be turned on two or three times a year.
“You put in raw fat at one end and at the other end of the machine it fills up thousand-litre tubs with pure oil.”
After the oil is put into capsules, they are then put into bottles and labelled on site as well.
“By the time it leaves our building it will be ready to go on the shelf.”
Once established, Flood says they hope to employ about 20 people at the facility, aside from the work to be done locally on preparing the building itself through construction, equipment installation and other jobs. They’ll be adding new construction on the property to serve as warehouse space.
Flood says they’re also concentrating on making Ár n-oileán Resources a socially-minded and “green” company.
“We’re investing a large amount of money into using the most efficient methods necessary,” he said. “Everything from the energy we use, machines that we’re using and how we deal with waste is as green as we can possibly make it at this time.”
He adds there are no harsh chemicals used in the encapsulation process, as the gelatin used for the capsules is a natural animal protein and the seal oil itself is a pure animal fat product.
“The only waste that is put out is the broken-down fat cells that the (omega-3) oil was removed from.”
Flood told The Packet Bonavista MHA Neil King has been instrumental in helping establish the business in the area. The main reason they decided on this area were the harvesters in the region, workers in the area, and King himself.
King told The Packet the new technology that will be used in the seal oil capsule industry is exciting and modernizing the process.
“It’s an industry we’ve had here in the province for years,” says King. “People know about it, the expertise is in our region as well.”
Kind adds, through working with Flood and his business plan, he’s seen the benefits it will bring to the region.
While the facility will sit just outside of the district of Bonavista (Shoal Harbour is in Terra Nova district), the proximity to the Bonavista Peninsula is deliberate, with the seal material set to be purchased from seal harvesters in places like Trinity Bay North.
“We’ve fostered a lot of good relationships with the seal harvesters primarily around the Catalina area,” said Flood. “I’d say near 100 per cent of our seal purchase will come from those guys.”
Both Flood and King also reference the possibility for growth in the future of the business with the potential for more facilities on the peninsula itself. This could include more nutraceutical products for the rest of the seal that is harvested.
This expansion would mean more jobs as well, says Flood.
“We’re already looking at areas up and down the Bonavista Peninsula to set up a much larger facility.”
As far as when they can be up and running, the company will receive official approval from the Town of Clarenville, depending on the discretionary notice, at which point they will apply for a sector processors license through the provincial licensing board. This will allow them to purchase the raw material from the fisherman and begin their work of refining and encapsulating.
Once approved, however, there will be months of preparation through equipment installation and other work to ready the building.
Flood says once this lengthy work is done, they will then be able to operate on a full-scale basis.
“We have every hope of purchasing seals for next season and we should even have the encapsulation side of things operational before that.”