Portrait of a pioneer

Bruce Wareham Icewater Seafoods

Bruce Wareham’s experience in the Canadian fish industry stretches back more than half a century. He is the founder and former CEO of Icewater Seafoods, and was before that Executive Vice President of Production for High Liner Foods.

Wareham has witnessed the transformation of the industry across time, and was instrumental in Marel entering the Canadian market back in the 80s. He is a wealth of knowledge and insight about the challenges fish processors have faced over the years.

Roots in the fish industry

Bruce Wareham started working for his family’s salt fish business in Newfoundland in 1963 and has been in the fish industry ever since. He has drawn on his resourcefulness, experience and expertise to survive all the major shifts in the Canadian seafood industry, as well as run his own thriving business in Newfoundland.

Bringing Marel to Canada

It was Wareham’s keen eye for good processing solutions that led to the introduction of the first Marel waterproof scales in Canada in 1986. Wareham was Divisional Manager of National Sea Products in Arnold’s Cove, Newfoundland, at the time.

“When we started in the late ‘70s with fresh and frozen cod, the bulk of the product was produced into three packs basically: layer pack, cod block and of course fresh cod fillets. To produce the five-pound layer packs, we had to have scales, and that was why I got in touch with Marel when the company was in its infancy,” says Wareham.

“Until we got the Marel scale, we could never find one that was watertight. I had read an article about Marel and their scales, and how good they were. We purchased some, and I guess that was the beginning of Marel in Canada.”

Surviving the ‘92 Cod Moratorium

Like many in the Canadian seafood industry, Wareham experienced first-hand the hardships of the 1992 Cod Moratorium. At the time, Wareham was the Executive Vice President of Production for National Sea Products which later became High Liner Foods, Canada’s largest fish processing company.

“In ‘92 when the moratorium hit, I had thirteen processing facilities under my control, three of which were in the United States, nine in Canada and one in Argentina called Alpesca. We had 7,000 employees and 56 wet fish trawlers,” says Wareham. “While the operation in Argentina carried on, we had to shut down all but one plant [in North America] which was Arnold’s Cove.”

The fish was gone, the resources depleted and Newfoundland and Labrador was hit hard. Wareham had to lay off the people, shut down the factories and tie up the trawlers. “When I look back at it now, I don't know how I did it,” Wareham says quietly. “I guess it was just the adrenaline that kept me going.”

Facing challenges and adapting to change

Wareham faced a lot of challenges reorganizing operations after this but he approached it with the same spirit that brought the first waterproof scales to Canada. He worked with the best companies in the field to redesign the plant that was left in Arnold’s Cove.

“To continue surviving after the moratorium hit in ‘92 we had to reorganize and restructure operations,” Wareham explains.

Marel was one of the companies that was brought in and helped establish a new way of processing. New weighing systems, grading applications and processing methods were implemented. Wareham and his team faced the challenge head on, and today – decades later – the Arnold’s Cove fish processing facility is still thriving.

First to start IQF processing

Consumer driven changes moved the market towards different portioning and pack requirements. In the late ‘80s, Wareham and his team at National Sea Products started producing IQF products. They installed Marel portioning and grading lines to replace manual work, continuing the close cooperation between both companies.

“We were the first plant, to my knowledge, in North America that did IQF portion products. We took the cod fillet, and we basically portioned it into a cod loin, a center cut and a cod tail. Then the piece of the belly went into cod block,” explains Wareham. “We’ve been focused on IQF portioned production since ‘89 in Arnold’s Cove, right up to this day, and it is still going strong.”

The first Marel flowline installed in North America

“The next big change came in 1997 when we installed a Marel flowline, the first in North America. A new Marel IQF Grading System went on-line in 2001,” says Wareham. “We are still using these Marel solutions, we have added different elements since, but these products are still running strong.”

Icewater Seafoods established

The Arnold’s Cove plant turned out to be the foundation for Wareham’s own company, Icewater Seafoods, which was established in 2004. “At the time, I was called to the head office in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and I pretty much knew why I was going there,” Wareham says with a smile.

He continues, “They told me on my birthday on August 3rd, 2003, that ‘Bruce, we have tried to sell Arnold’s Cove. We haven’t got any takers. We decided we’re either shutting it down or we’re doing a deal with you to take the plant over. One thing or the other.’”

Staying loyal to the community

Wareham, always thinking of the community he lived and worked in, took the idea back to his wife to talk over. “‘We intend to live the rest of our lives in Arnold’s Cove, a community now of only 1,200 people. I don't want to live here and go to the post office with the plant shut down and see people with no jobs and the effect it has on our community. I just don’t want that,’ I said. Whatever success I’ve had, I’ve basically had it here in Arnold’s Cove with the people and I don't think it’s right for me to turn my back on them.” Wareham put together a deal with High Liner and Icewater Seafoods was formed in October 2004.

Highliner Icewater

High Liner Foods

A pioneering spirit

A knack for adapting to change, a flexible sourcing strategy and a sturdy work ethic have kept Wareham at the forefront of the Canadian seafood industry. In his role as Executive VP of Production for High Liner Foods, Wareham kept up with the latest trends in the industry, both in terms of processing technology and consumer trends. “As things changed, we’ve always been fortunate enough to be able to change Arnold’s Cove with it, to keep it all going,” says Wareham.

The only cod processor in Newfoundland

Wareham’s plant in Arnold’s Cove is the only plant in Newfoundland that has consistently processed cod in the 25 years since the moratorium.

“All the raw material right now in Atlantic Canada is coming from small boats,” Wareham explains. “There are no offshore trawlers anymore. Arnold’s Cove has been and is supplied by small boats – less than 20 meters – but we have managed. Today, the company is looking to the future and preparing for the changes to come.”

Taking advantage of the latest technology

Close cooperation with key players in the processing technology sector has enabled Wareham to adapt to changes, meet industry challenges and keep his operation competitive. “We work together. We share information and that’s the reason we’re still here and we’re still strong,” Wareham says. “That’s one side of things; the other is the raw material and sourcing.”

Positive signs the cod stock is recovering

Icewater is the second largest holder of enterprise allocations for Northern Cod in Canada. When the Wareham family took over the Newfoundland operations of High Liner Foods, the cod allocations were included.

“The moratorium was in ‘92. We’re now 25 years later, or we will be in July of 2017, and there are finally solid, positive signs that the cod resource is recovering around Newfoundland and Southern Labrador,” says Wareham.

Wareham explains that in order to operate a full scale commercial fishery, scientists estimate that the spawning stock biomass of cod needs to be at least 880,000 metric tons (mt).

“The total biomass right now, they’re saying, is approximately 530,000 mt. The spawning biomass is estimated around 300,000 mt. It is improving, even if it isn’t there yet,” he says.

Ready for the cod’s return

As the outlook for the Canadian cod resource improves, men like Bruce Wareham and his son Alberto Wareham, who now runs Icewater Seafoods, are preparing for change. Whether it takes five years or ten, Icewater Seafoods is ready and waiting to change and adapt to new ways of fishing, new resources and a new way of processing.

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