Q&A with Keith Decker and Jeff Davis of Blue Harvest Fisheries
On Tuesday, 16 January, New Bedford, Massachusetts-based Blue Harvest Fisheries announced that former High Liner executive Keith Decker had been named the company’s new president and CEO, replacing Jeff Davis, who had served in those positions since the firm was founded in 2014. In a joint interview with SeafoodSource on Wednesday, 17 January, Decker and Davis discussed the transition and their future plans for Blue Harvest.
SeafoodSource: Keith, it has been only a few months since you left High Liner…What made this opportunity at Blue Harvest Fisheries a good one for you?
Keith Decker: It started with the people who were involved in the business. Bregal Partners has been involved in the industry for quite a long time and invested in great companies like American Seafoods and Bumble Bee, and others. They have a great understanding of the industry. Secondly, Jeff Davis’ vision for what company could be. The pieces he has accumulated are impressive – he has put together great platform.
The last piece is vertical integration. At Blue Harvest, we produce American-caught and American- processed products. That resonates the demand of American consumer and customers for products sourced from wild-caught, sustainable capture fisheries – they can understand the path from the ocean to the customer and ultimately to the consumer eating it. That whole story behind the provenance really resonates with the American consumer – it’s really what they’re looking for.
SeafoodSource: Will you be based out of New Bedford?
Decker: Yes, I’ll be based in New Bedford.
SeafoodSource: Jeff, how closely will you be working with Keith?
Jeff Davis: Keith is the CEO and my job as the chairman of the board is to support him. And I’ll support him with whatever he needs. I expect to still communicate with him a lot, but it’s up to him what role he wants me to play, I’m available to him when he needs me.
Decker: Jeff’s got great contacts and a very deep knowledge of the industry and I’ll be relying on him to get me up to speed quickly. This [company] is his idea and his baby, and I’ll need him to help me understand and take control of the strategic initiatives he focused the company on.
SeafoodSource: Jeff, was your decision to retire made recently? Did Keith’s availability to take the job have any impact on your decision to retire, or were you thinking about this for a longer period of time?
Davis: Right from the beginning, when we opened up Blue Harvest, my intention was not to be day-to-day in the business for a long period of time. What I do best is put things together and then find good management to take things from there. Last summer, I talked with the board about a succession plan. We did a very private, quiet search, but when Keith became available, we felt it was a really good match. We moved quickly and it came together. I’ve been ready for some time to find right person to take over and Keith is they guy. I’m very happy to turn it over to him.
SeafoodSource: Keith, in your quote from the press release yesterday, you talked about Blue Harvest’s “next phase of growth.” What will that entail?
Decker: It’s about taking a look at ways we can add value into our processes. All a vertically integrated fishing companies take products to market, so there’s not so much of a differential between us and other companies there. At the end of the day, we start with a naked or raw commodity coming off our vessels, and the ability to produce market-ready products from that raw material, whether packaged or processed forms, is where our opportunity continues to develop. So where we’re looking is developing new customers bases and product forms. [Species-wise], our business is centered on scallops, swordfish, tuna, and cod.
SeafoodSource: Does Blue Harvest currently have the capacity to take on new initiatives such as those you’re discussing?
Davis: We do have the capacity inside the company. Bregal, our private equity partner, is very strong financially. We’ve talked with them about the things we’d like to do in the future, and they’re prepared to do that with us. We have a strong vision and execution, and Bregal is fully supportive of that vision. We brought Keith on to grow this business to a new level and that’s what we plan on doing.
SeafoodSource: What do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities facing Blue Harvest in the years ahead?
Davis: Scallops will be very good business for the company this year. There will be significantly more landings this year than we had in the past year. And the new habitat amendment that was passed gives us access to some closed areas that we had historically lost years ago. [In addition], it looks like we’ll also actually get back some quota that we were reissued. So we’re expecting this year to be pretty significant in the amount of scallops we’ll be taking in, and that will be the continued focus of the company. Especially so given expected challenges we face such as the shortage on cod – we’ll be making that up in volumes of other species like scallops.
SeafoodSource: Blue Harvest still has the ability to add two more vessels to its scallop-fishing fleet, under U.S. legal limits. Is that an angle the company is still pursuing?
Davis: When we can find the right combination of what we’re looking for, we will go forward and buy more vessels.
SeafoodSource: Any other deals in the works?
Davis: We’ve got nothing right now on the horizon.
SeafoodSource: Keith, after being let go suddenly in August, do you have any parting thoughts about High Liner?
Decker: I was there from 2007 through 2017, so I spent a long time there. It was an awesome organization, full of great people, and I had a great time there and really learned a lot. I look forward to continue to do business with them as we move forward over the next few years.