Southern Pride ceasing operations at local plant

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 20, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &8212; More than 150 people will lose their jobs when Southern Pride Catfish closes down its processing plant here on March 31.

Southern Pride, a subsidiary of American Pride Seafoods, will consolidate its local plant with their Greensboro location, said David Bleth, vice president of catfish operations for American Pride Seafoods and general manager of Southern Pride Catfish.

Bleth said the company is offering its 150 hourly-wage employees the opportunity to work keep their jobs at the Greensboro location. The company will provide transportation each day from the local plan to Greensboro and back.

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Bleth said they informed employees of the closure yesterday in an effort to provide plenty of time for hourly-wage employees to decide if they want to transfer to the new plant.

Despite the retention of what Bleth said will be between 115 to 120 employees, Southern Pride Catfish will layoff approximately 150 contractors and up to 24 salaried employees.

Bleth said contractors hold positions that include &8220;the general type work&8221; including cutting filets and operating machinery.

The decision to consolidate the local operation to Greensboro made sense, Bleth said, because it performs more procession procedures and is the only one of the two plant with internal freezers.

City leaders were caught off guard by the announcement. They had not heard of Southern Pride&8217;s decision to cease their local operations when contacted for comment.

The mayor said she previously had talked with Bleth about the possibility of Southern Pride adding a freezer operation to their plant here.

John Laney echoed the mayor&8217;s sentiments, adding he was sad to lose Southern Pride Catfish as a &8220;good corporate partner.&8221;

He also praised the company for doing what they could for at least some of their employees.

Jay Shows, executive secretary for the Demopolis Industrial Development Board, said the catfish industry has seen its shares of ups and downs and that temporary layoffs or delays in work schedules were not uncommon.

However, this news was different, he said.

Bleth said the decision to consolidate the two operations was predicated by the changing catfish industry.

Jesse Chappell, an agriculture specialist with Auburn University&8217;s department of fisheries, said part of the reduction in supply comes from farmers being able to get higher prices from Mississippi processor plants.

Chappell said the supply in Mississippi has dropped dramatically, citing numbers as high as 35 percent over the last several years. Because of this, catfish processors in the Mississippi Delta are paying up to 10 cents per pound more for catfish than are local processors.

Bleth said American Pride Seafoods will continue to invest in both the Demopolis and Greensboro plants and are is committed to their U.S. farm-raised catfish industry. He said if the industry&8217;s economic standing changes then they will look at restarting local operations.