In the Business of Selling Seafood
The Caicos Pride seafood plant takes proactive steps to stay competitive.
By Tara Malcolm, Quality Assurance Manager, Caicos Pride Ltd.
The spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) is an important resource for the Turks & Caicos Islands and even more so for South Caicos. The “Big South,” as the island is affectionately known, is known as the fishing capital of the country, with approximately 75% of its working population in some way connected to the fishing industry.
Fishing for the spiny lobster has seen a downturn since the passage of Hurricane Ike in 2008. While current scientific analysis on the status of the lobster industry is still pending, the experienced fishermen have concluded that finding lobster is now more difficult than it was before.
While suggesting a number of reasons for the downturn in the industry, the fisher folks are positive that lobster fishing now takes more effort, but results in diminishing return. The use of more gas and oil (at a higher price!) to travel further distances out to sea and the necessity of more time spent harvesting the lobster should result in more money for the landed product. Unfortunately, economics does not always strictly dictate market price.
Seafood plants in the TCI and elsewhere purchase lobster from the fishermen at a price that is dictated by the selling price of the product in its primary market. The United States is the main purchaser of lobsters from the Turks & Caicos Islands. With the recession hitting the US hard, there is less demand and falling prices for lobsters. In fact, the 2009 lobster season started off shakily with poor prices and little demand. Seafood processing plants like Caicos Pride Products Ltd. buy and process lobsters only with faith that there will be a future market.
Caicos Pride Products Ltd. is a locally owned seafood processing plant located on South Caicos. It processes lobster, conch, and scale fish. The company started operation in 1999 under the leadership of Jimmy Baker. After eight years of working in the seafood industry, first as a fisherman and later as plant manager for one of the processing plants in South Caicos, Jimmy became the general manager of Caicos Pride. With an eye for detail and a commitment to quality, Jimmy knew from the start that he wanted to take seafood processing to another level in the Turks & Caicos Islands. Under Jimmy’s command, Caicos Pride has evolved to become the leading seafood processing plant in the country.
Caicos Pride is a modern facility with a product flow that ensures food safety and quality. Products are processed by highly skilled, educated and diligent staff. The majority of Caicos Pride’s workers have been with the company for over three years and some have even been with the plant since inception. The Caicos Pride management team has over 60 years combined experience in seafood processing and a staff member who is the recipient of the “Longest Serving Seafood Worker Award” presented by the TCI’s Department of Environment and Coastal Resources.
Jimmy Baker is committed to ensuring the sustainability of the seafood industry but is buffeted by many challenges. The price of lobster in the marketplace has decreased but the processing overhead has increased. The price for electricity, water and demands from suppliers have significantly reduced the profitability of the processing sector. However, Caicos Pride has been proactive and keeps positioning itself to meet the needs of its local and international customers. In 2008, Caicos Pride marked another milestone when it became the first local seafood plant to employ a quality control manager in its drive to maintain the provision of quality seafood for its customers. According to Jimmy, in difficult times such as the current recession, it is critical that Caicos Pride maintains the quality of its products to ensure that customers get the best for their hard-earned money.
Caicos Pride’s desire to protect their valued customers and the seafood industry led them to implement the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. HACCP is the premier food safety system that was first developed by the Pillsbury Company for NASA in the 1960s, in an effort to prevent astronauts from getting foodborne illness while in space. It was adapted in the US by the food industry in 1973 in response to a number of botulism outbreaks associated with canned products. In the mid-1980s, the National Academy of Sciences recommended that the HACCP approach be adopted by all regulatory agencies and that it is mandatory for all food processors.
Caicos Pride Products is the only HACCP certified seafood plant in the Turks & Caicos Islands. HACCP is an internationally acceptable technique for ensuring food safety. The HACCP system allows food operators to assess hazards to food safety throughout the food flow and to put measures in place to assure the safety of the end product. An establishment that is HACCP certified signifies that the company is taking all reasonable steps to provide product of the highest standard. It enhances a company’s image, boost customers’ confidence and conforms to regulatory requirements.
Caicos Pride sees its employees as its most important asset and they, too, are also faced with challenges during this recession. In order to keep workers motivated and to help them through this difficult time, Caicos Pride has implemented a number of staff incentive programs, one of which is the Staff Member of the Quarter Award. Each quarter, one worker is selected for their contribution to the company and is given a cash award and other memorabilia.
Caicos Pride also believes in lending a helping hand to the community. Over the years, Caicos Pride has constantly supported educational and social programs in South Caicos and has been involved in philanthropic activities. They recognize the need to give back to the community as an important role of the company.
Caicos Pride wants to expand its base in the scale fish industry and be able to satisfy the demand in the local market. In addition, Caicos Pride wants to be able to provide employment for workers during the closed seasons. Lobster season runs from August 1 to March 31 and conch season from October 15 to July 15. In addition to the closed season, conch also has a quota and in some instances (such as the 2008 season), the quota was exhausted as early as March resulting in the plant being closed for four months. During the closed season, processing and exporting of these products are prohibited and therefore many persons are out of work.
According to a 1990 report, the TCI fin-fish fishery is believed to be underutilized, and is therefore considered to be robust with a potential yield of 70–140 kg/km off the shelf perimeter of the Turks & Caicos Islands. Sustainable fishing in this area will therefore allow for the expansion of the economic base of South Caicos. Caicos Pride is working to take advantage of this opportunity, which will allow restaurants to provide visitors with authentic local cuisine and provide an opportunity for locals to get jobs during the closed season, thereby, contributing to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
Caicos Pride has also diversified its marketing strategy. Cleaned, packaged, frozen Gold conch, tenderized conch and conch trimmings, along with lobster tails in a variety of sizes can now be ordered on-line at www.caicoslobsterandconch.com for shipping worldwide.
According to Jimmy Baker, “surviving this recession requires you to diversify, be innovative and see the opportunity in every situation, while at the same time, having a vision of where you want to go.” There’s no doubt that Caicos Pride, “King of Quality Seafood,” plans to provide quality seafood to the people of the Turks & Caicos Islands and the world far into the future.
For more information on Caicos Pride, visit www.caicoslobsterandconch.com.
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Desmond Missick demonstrates how the conch shell can be blown as a horn. It was used practically to signal, warn, or communicate, and also serves as a musical instrument. Photo by James Roy of Paradise Photography (www.MyParadisePhoto.com).