Little Bay Islands -- Assessing Potential to Develop a Small Boat Building Industry
Little Bay Islands (LBI) is an island located in Green Bay, and is reached via a 45 minute ferry ride from Shoal Arm. Its sheltered harbour is well known to boaters and it is considered by experienced boaters to be a day’s cruise from Lewisporte. In 1999, 35-40 yachts from the Cruising Club of America visited LBI harbour. The community has a fish plant that processes crab, capelin, mackerel and herring. It employs 95 employees seasonally, with each employee receiving approximately 750 hours of work. 65% of these workers are from off LBI; the fish plant supplies accommodations for workers.
The population of Little Bay Islands in 2006 was 155. An unofficial estimate of the current population of full time permanent residents is approximately 85. However, during the summer months the population increases to approximately 160, as retirees and seasonal residents return for the summer. Between the census period of 2001 and 2006, the community’s population declined by 11.4%, a decline that is substantially higher than the provincial decrease of 1.5% over the same period. The median age of the population is 53. Currently there are five students in the all grade school, H.L. Academy, with two of these students slated to graduate in June 2010.
Residents of Little Bay Islands would like to revive their community, and to attract young families to the community. To accomplish this, full time employment in alternative industries must be created. One option the community would like to assess is the opportunity to develop a small boat building industry; to expand upon an existing dory boat building business currently operated by Mr. Wilbert Weir. Mr. Weir has a boat building shop, and owns additional abutting shoreline property. He currently builds dories and floating docks for clients. The bulk of his business, however, is in selling dory plans over the internet. He has customers from Germany, United Sates, and Canada. His son in-law manages the marketing and sales from St. John’s via the internet. Mr. Weir once operated a thriving boat building operation, and is optimistic he could do this again, and is willing to put as much effort as required if it means the survival of the community of Little Bay Islands. Mr. Weir is 81 years old, appears much younger, and is in perfect health. He expects that his son Jerry Weir, who is the school principal and editor of the local paper, would become involved in the business if the business opportunity exists.
The idea is to build traditional Newfoundland Dories, and to market these dories internationally via the internet. While an industry of manufacturing fiberglass pleasure boats has recently been developed in Newfoundland, the building skills needed to construct a traditional Newfoundland fishing dory is becoming a lost art.
Recent orders for a built dory, the most recent from a Humber Valley Resort Chalet owner from Germany, and the demand for Wilbert’s dory construction plans, indicate there is at least some market demand. What the level of demand could become with a well planned and executed marketing strategy is unknown. The ideal target market for the dory is also unknown. The market could prove to be former Newfoundlanders, now living away, repatriated Newfoundlanders, local cabin owners, boat collectors, recreational boaters, and others. Work to date certainly confirms that some markets do exist.
Potential employees of the dory building facility would ideally be young people with families, perhaps even former residents of Little Bay Islands who would welcome the opportunity to return home. (One thirty year old man interviewed would happily move back if full time employment was available.)
Making a Business Case
On behalf of LBI we are requesting that the Harris Centre, through its partnership with Memorial University, undertake a market assessment and business case to confirm the viability of developing a small boat building industry in LBI with an initial focus on the Newfoundland dory.