Mexican tuna rancher Baja Aqua-Farms snags major investment

Baja Aqua-Farms' headquarters in Ensenada, Mexico.

Ensenada, Mexico-based Baja Aqua-Farms has received an investment from a group of entities that includes Continental Grain Company, Cultiba, Equity Group Investments, and Castle Harlan.

Founded in 2000, Baja Aqua-Farms conducts tuna ranching in Baja, Mexico. The vertically integrated company has 1,210 hectares of farming locations and conducts year-round ranching to produce fresh and frozen sashimi-grade Pacific bluefin tuna, which it exports to retail and foodservice customers globally sold under the Bluefiná brand.

Based in New York City, U.S.A., Continental Grain Company (Conti) is a privately-owned global investor, owner, and operator of companies worldwide in the food, agribusiness, and commodities sectors.

Organización Cultiba SAB de CV (Cultiba) is a holding company with minority interests in leading food and beverage companies in the North American market. It is listed on the Mexican Stock Market (Bolsa Mexicana de Valores) under the symbol CULTIBAB.

Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.-based Equity Group Investments (EGI) is a private investment firm founded by the late Sam Zell. Its multi-billion dollar investment portfolio includes private and public companies in industries including energy, logistics, waste, manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, and real estate.

Castle Harlan is a New York City-based private equity firm that makes control equity investments in middle market companies, focusing on niche consumer and specialty industrial businesses.

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. As part of the transaction, Ignacio Sanz from Conti, Juan Ignacio Gallardo Thurlow from Cultiba, Rahul Sen from EGI, and Patrick Zyla from Castle Harlan will join Baja Aqua Farms’ board of directors.

In a press release, Baja Aqua-Farms said the investors will provide “strategic support and a source of additional capital for the company to meet the growing demand in the seafood industry”.

“We look forward to partnering with the investor consortium. Their combined operational expertise will be a major asset in driving the growth and expansion of our business going forward. In addition, the incoming investor group shares our passion to remain a leader in environmentally sustainable practices, offering unique opportunities for our customers, suppliers, and employees,” Baja Aqua-Farms CEO Manuel Vazquez said.

Contacted by SeafoodSource, Vazquez said he was currently not able to comment further on the deal.

Baja Aqua Farms was acquired by San Diego, California, U.S.A.-based Umami Sustainable Seafood in 2010, a year in which the company produced 3,080 metric tons of bluefin tuna. Umami Sustainable Seafood received a USD 8.5 million (EUR ) investment from AMERRA Capital Management in 2011 to enhance Baja Aqua-Farms’ biomass and operations. In 2014, AMERRA provided a USD 75 million (EUR 68.9 million) line of credit to Umami Sustainable Seafood through 2017, secured with a pledge of 50 percent of the shares in Baja Aqua-Farms, and with the requirement that Baja reduce its outstanding loan balance to USD 35 million (EUR 32.1 million) or less after its harvest season in 2015, and USD 26 million (EUR 23.8 million) or less following the 2016 harvest season. 

Umami Sustainable Seafood terminated its registration with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2014, after it announced the sale of 100 percent of Kali Tuna, its Croatian tuna-ranching subsidiary, for USD 35.4 million (EUR 32.5 million) to J-Trading, a Japanese firm. The total included the assumption of USD 25.2 million (EUR 23.1 million) in debt.

Baja Aqua Farms hired Edward O’Donnell as director of global sales and marketing in 2021.

Photo courtesy of Baja Aqua-Farms


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