Blue Harvest Fisheries reportedly shutting down all operations
New Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S.A.-based Blue Harvest Fisheries is reportedly shutting down all of its fishing operations.
The company, which recently suspended its processing work and laid off workers in March 2023, told fishermen it will by ceasing operation on Friday, 1 September, the New Bedford Light reported. Luke deWildt, captain of the Teresa Marie IV – one of Blue Harvest’s fishing vessels – said his most recent fishing trip would be the last for the company.
“They told us, on Friday, they’d be chaining the doors shut,” deWildt told the newspaper.
Blue Harvest could not be reached for comment on the potential shutdown. If confirmed, the shuttering of the company comes just months after it announced the renovatation and reactivation of the groundfish fishing vessel Nobska, a feature project of its pivot into groundfish fishing after selling off its scallop fleet over the past several years.
Blue Harvest Fisheries was founded in 2015 and immediately announced its aspiration to become an “enduring vertically-integrated fishing company.” Blue Harvest was backed by Bregal Partners, a company co-founded by Scott Perekslis, since at least 2016.
Perekslis recently announced he would leave his role as the fund’s managing partner, effective 8 October, 2023, to pursue a takeover of both Blue Harvest and Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.-based pollock- and hake-fishing firm American Seafoods. As a result of Perekslis leaving his role, Bregal Partners said it would divest from its Bregal Partners Fund I portfolio companies – which include American Seafoods, Blue Harvest Fisheries, and West Coast Salmon, a land-based salmon farm under development in the U.S. state of Nevada.
Perekslis was responsible for Blue Harvest’s push into the U.S. scallop sector in 2016 after he led the acquisitions of Newport News, Virginia-based Peabody, Harbor Blue, Hygrade Ocean Products, and High Liner Foods’ scallop business, all located in New Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Then in 2020, the company acquired a number of groundfishing vessels from the fleet of Carlos Rafael, a.k.a. the “Codfather,” a former New Bedford fishing magnate who was forced to sell his limited access fishing permits and vessels after being found guilty of surpassing fishing quotes and hiding illegal and fraudulent activity from the federal government.
Blue Harvest's purchase of its groundfish fleet was directed by then-CEO Keith Decker, who was hired to run the company in 2018. The purchase was part of Decker’s push to shift away from scallops, which eventually led the company to sell off its scallop fleet just a few years after its assembly.
Decker told SeafoodSource in 2020 the New England groundfish fishery was leaving large portions of its quota in the water each year. He said he wanted Blue Harvest to push to expand its groundfish fleet capacity to match the capacity of its New Bedford-based processing facility – a 160,000-square-foot, SQF-certified facility the company had upgraded through millions of dollars of investment.
“Our focus is to build an enduring vertically-integrated fishing company in New England,” Decker told SeafoodSource in 2020. “There really hasn’t been one probably since the early ‘90s, when the fisheries collapsed.”
In July 2022, ProPublica and The New Bedford Light published an investigation into the growing influence of foreign equity and managing firms like Bregal Partners on the domestic fishing industry. It alleged Bregal was owned by a Dutch billionaire family that had taken advantage of lax antitrust enforcement to take over a higher ownership stake in a U.S. fishing company than was legally allowed.
The investigation led U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and both U.S. senators representing Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey – to criticize the current level of federal oversight of the fishing industry. On 7 October, 2022, ProPublica and The New Bedford Light reported the U.S. Department of Justice could be investigating whether there were antitrust issues in the New England fishing industry.
A Blue Harvest spokesperson told SeafoodSource at the time that the company had not, as of May 2023, been contacted by the U.S. Justice Department, and that it had no evidence there was any alleged investigation into its actions.
Photo courtesy of Blue Harvest Fisheries