Raw Spirit arrives, bringing new jobs

Raw Spirit

Factory-trawler FV Raw Spirit sailed its way into the Alberni Valley Wednesday, marking the end of a long adventure from Brussels to Norway, Iceland, the Panama Canal and now Vancouver Island

Julie Bertrand, Alberni Valley Times : Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013

A factory-trawler called FV Raw Spirit arrived on March 20 at 2: 30 a.m. at the Port Alberni Port Authority, bringing with it new jobs for the Alberni Valley.

Its arrival was the end of an adventure that started in Brussels and continued in Norway, Iceland, the Panama Canal and now Vancouver Island.

The boat is owned by Independent Seafood Canada Corporation president Kelly Andersen, who partnered with Fisher Bay Seafood Ltd. vice-presidents Tracy Ronlund and Theresa Williams and the Jim Pattison-owned Canadian Fishing Company to buy it.

"It was almost two years in the making," Ronlund said.

It all started at the annual European Seafood Exposition and Seafood Processing Europe in Brussels in May 2011. Ron-lund was attending on behalf of her company when she ran into Andersen there. Andersen was on his way to Denmark and Norway to look at financing a new vessel and to tour the used vessel market.

Since Ronlund's specialty is financing, Andersen asked her to take a look at his business plan. Intrigued by what she saw, she asked him if he wanted partners. He said yes.

"Kelly came with the expertise to run the boat," Ronlund said. "Theresa and I both have family quotas that can be fished, as well as sales and vessel management expertise."

While they kept looking for a boat, Ron-nd and Williams got to know Andersen better. It turned out they got along really well and had a lot in common, including a strong fishing background.

Andersen owned a fishing boat that was based out of White Rock. He had previous worked for a short stint in Port Alberni.

Meanwhile, Ronlund and Williams were daughters of two fishermen who had founded Fisher Bay Seafood Ltd. together. Five years ago, the daughters bought the company from their fathers, and they have been running it ever since.

Ronlund was from Port Alberni and had worked at Port Fish for a year before moving to Victoria to work for Fisher Bay Seafood Ltd.

"Theresa and I have a great relationship," Ronlund said. "We're best friends as well."

In December 2011, Andersen went to Norway to meet with Aker, the country's largest seafood company. He had heard that the company was building three new 70-metre-long trawlers to catch whitefish. "We thought we'd inquire if they were selling some of their boats," Andersen said.

It turned out that Aker would indeed be selling the Nordfjordtral, the boat that would become FV Raw Spirit. However, the company would not be selling it for another year. In the end, a deal for the boat was made that month, signed in January 2012 and completed in December 2012.

"We figured it was well worth the wait," Andersen said. "It's better to wait a year to get what you want."

Due to the size of the boat, which is 44-metres long, 12-metres wide and has a gross tonnage of 844 tonnes, the three partners soon decided to take on a fourth partner to strengthen the association. Canadian Fishing Company came on board just before the deal was made.

When Aker delivered the boat, the partners had it brought over to Iceland, where it spent two months being refitted.

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"The boat was built in 1998 in Norway," Williams said. "It is now one of the most fuel-efficient boats on the coast."

The factory floor was also gutted and re-made to the specifications of the associates. Once the refit was over, the boat started making its long way home, going down the mid-Atlantic Ocean before veering southwest near the Azores to head in the direction of the Panama Canal.

During the canal crossing, the extreme heat and humidity tested the crew and the boat, but all emerged unscathed in the Pacific Ocean.

The trawler will call Port Alberni home for the foreseeable future. Depending on the season, crew members will spend their time fishing for Pacific hake, Pollock and arrow-tooth flounder on the western coast of B.C. during shifts that vary between 10 and 13 days.

While the 44-metre boat pales in comparison with other vessels that make stops in the port, appearances in this case are deceiving. The Raw Spirit is the second biggest fishing boat in British Columbia, and can accommodate a crew of 22 comfortably, along with 327,000 kilograms of fish.

Ronlund expects the boat to go on its first fishing expedition after the Easter weekend for Pacific hake.

Until then, the crew, 15 of whom are from the Alberni Valley, will spend time acclimatizing themselves to the boat as well as using Google to translate the boat's many signs from Norwegian to English.

A few Valley tradespeople are also working on the boat.

"They're working on machinery to familiarize themselves and to bring the vessel's equipment up to our standards," Ronlund said. "It takes two full-time engineers on board to run the vessel."

The partners will also be hiring more employees this week, to work at the company's rented Port Authority shed when the boat offloads its catch.

Interested people can drop off their resum?s at the shed this Friday, between 1 and 3 p.m. A valid piece of ID is required to enter the Port Alberni Port Authority property.

In total, the three associates estimate the boat will create around 50 jobs.

"This group wants to work very hard and have fun doing it," Ron-lund said.

Mayor John Douglas said having the FV Raw Spirit use the community as its port is a really positive thing.

"They're bringing business to Port Alberni," he said. "They will be acquiring provisions from local stores."

He added that a lot of credit needs to go to the port authority, which negotiated the deal.

City economic development manager Pat Deakin said that the Independent Seafood Canada Corporation's decision to have the boat based in the city has other fishing companies considering the community as well.

"We will see other vessels coming as a result of [the company's] decision," he said.

JBertrand@avtimes.net