Owners of a smoked salmon business in Port Hardy work hard to produce high-quality products, support employees and give back to the community
Hardy Buoys Smoked Fish Inc. has experienced impressive growth since its start as a hobby for Bruce Dirom. Today, nearly 27 years later, Bruce and his wife Carol are one of the largest employers in Port Hardy. The couple are also exemplary members in their close-knit community.
Family plants roots in Port Hardy
In 1991, Bruce and Carol moved to Port Hardy from the Cowichan Valley for Bruce’s job with BC Hydro. They instantly fell in love with the community. So, the prospect of moving around the province for Bruce’s job did not appeal to the couple. As a result, they started to look for ways to supplement their young family’s income with a side business.
“Bruce was an avid sport fisherman and we saw a need for a place for people to have their sport fish taken care of while they were in the North Island vacationing or visiting,” Carol says.
So, in 1994, Bruce and Carol founded Hardy Buoys to address this need. What started out as a small two-person seafood locker operation in a 3,000 square foot building, evolved into a fish smokehouse.
Soon after the couple launched the business, Bruce’s brother John expressed interest in the family’s endeavour. Naturally, their dad right away said, “ah, the Hardy Boys.” With a little bit of creativity and play on words, the business partners chose to call their company Hardy Buoys Smoked Fish.
As their presence and demand grew in and around the community, Bruce began looking for ways to scale up the company. When people outside of the fishing community began asking for smoked fish products, Bruce sourced commercially-caught salmon and marketed smoked salmon for customers. Now, the couple sources fish from commercial and wild-caught suppliers.
“For the farmed salmon, we have Mowi, which is quite a large fish plant right here in Port Hardy. And a small portion is bought directly from fishermen,” Carol says.
“We produce all our products using salmon that are all harvested from BC and Alaskan waters.”
Hardy Buoys participates in the Canada Brand Strategy and consumers can trace product origin using This Fish Traceability program. The company also participates in the Sea Choice Program and the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise Program.
Keeping up with demand
In September 1994, Bruce and Carol expanded into commercial supply chains of distributors, restaurants and stores. The business soon became a year-round enterprise supplying product for wholesale buyers.
From there, demand for Hard Buoys smoked fish continued to grow and by November 1999, the business moved to a 7,000 sq ft facility. However, they soon outgrew that space, too!
In 2008, the business expanded yet again and they now occupy 24,000 sq ft.
Of course, Hardy Buoys operates 12 months of the year, but they generally see higher product volume in the summer because of an uptick in tourism. They currently employ 50 full-time staff members but have had as many as 80 employees.
The business helps the community’s hospitality industry throughout the year. Their services draw people to northern Vancouver Island because they can properly process fishermen’s catch in a timely manner. Hard Buoys even opens a special division each year from June to September to ensure fishers and visitors (and their respective catch) are taken care of on the spot.
In total, Hardy Buoys produces upwards of 65 different tasty combinations and offer such cuts as salmon nuggets, pepperoni, strips, and newly added jerky.
Indeed, Carol’s favourite product is their candied salmon jerky. The jerky has opened up a lot of doors for Hardy Buoys because it has shelf stability and is easy to ship. This protein-packed snack comes in adventure-sized packaging so that you can bring it while on the go. You can find their salmon jerky products on Tastes Local’s website.
And stay tuned for more delicious options in the near future because “we are following that up with other value-added products that are ready to eat and shelf-stable,” Bruce says.
Carol and Bruce raised their family in the Port Hardy community and they are deeply connected to the people and organizations in it. With three kids, Bruce spent a lot of time volunteering as a soccer and hockey coach. Carol has also helped out considerably with local events and organized sports.
“What I love most about Port Hardy is that everybody knows everybody,” Carol says. “You realize that the Island is a lot smaller than you think because you know people everywhere. We will get behind any community event.”
Indeed, Carol and Bruce’s passion for community support and fundraising goes well beyond the home. Hardy Buoys sponsors local sports teams and youth organizations. In addition, they have a Community Action Plan in which employees volunteer their personal time to participate in local events to make sure Hardy Buoys takes part. The company also offers year-round fundraising opportunities with their smoked salmon products.
“Anyone who comes to us looking for some type of involvement, we are always up for it. These events speak to me and we are happy to participate in those types of things,” Carol says.
While COVID-19 has impacted the tourism industry and the number of community visitors has decreased in the last year, “we think it is great for local businesses to support each other wherever possible,” Carol says.
“In the early days of COVID-19, the salmon farming community donated fish to food banks across Canada. They sent a lot of fish here to get processed and made into meal-sized portions. That gave us enough work to bring our crew back,” Bruce says. “The industry gave work to smaller processors. The community is extremely supportive and will do whatever they can do to help out.”
As the business continues to strive for excellence and ongoing philanthropy, Bruce and Carol look forward to seeing what’s in store for their booming business.
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