Blue Harvest Fisheries expands groundfish fleet

Published on
February 8, 2023
The Francis Dawn.

Blue Harvest Fisheries has expanded its groundfish fleet, adding the former Francis Dawn as “part of the company’s strategy to assemble a new, modern fleet,” the New Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S.A.-based company said in a press release.

The vessel, now renamed the Nobska, will fish for groundfish in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, landing its catch in both New Bedford and Gloucester, Massachusetts, Blue Harvest said. The Nobska’s current captain, Aldie Leeman, has agreed to work for Blue Harvest, and the company is in the process of transferring the groundfish permit from an older vessel that burned in 2021, also called the Nobska, to the new vessel.

“The new vessel is Blue Harvest’s latest investment in its groundfish fleet, and represents the first step in implementing the company’s plans for the future of its groundfish operations,” Blue Harvest said. “By investing in newer vessels that can spend more days fishing every year, run more efficiently, and require less maintenance, Blue Harvest hopes to maintain its position as an innovator in the New England groundfish fishery.”

Built in 2019, the Francis Dawn previously fished out of Portland, Maine, U.S.A.  It is equipped with innovative features including a state-of-the-art electronics system and a slurry ice vat system for its fish hold. Blue Harvest did not reveal the seller’s identity or the price paid for the vessel.

“We are excited for the opportunities that a new, modern vessel like the Nobska will provide for our groundfish operations,” Blue Harvest Fisheries CEO Chip Wilson said. “We are committed to the long-term future of this fishery, and this purchase is the first step in our strategy to remain involved here in Massachusetts for years to come.”  

Blue Harvest Fisheries has in recent years shifted its focus to groundfish as it has sold off all 15 of its scallop vessels, which it acquired between 2015 and 2018, as part of a strategy led by former CEO Keith Decker. The company now primarily fishes for haddock, ocean perch, and Atlantic pollock, as well as other groundfish from Marine Stewardship Council-certified fisheries in the waters off New England. It sells both fresh and frozen fish to foodservice firms, wholesalers, and distributors across the U.S., and offers custom processing and private-label products to retailers and foodservice distributors.   

Blue Harvest is minority owned by Bregal Partners, a New York City-based fund with ties to a wealthy Dutch family. The company came under scrutiny in 2022 via a ProPublica story highlighting the growing influence of foreign equity in U.S. fishing interests as a result of changes to federal rules adopted in 2010. According to the article, Blue Harvest owns the largest share of the quota in the New England groundfish fishery, with rights to catch 12 percent of the total allowable catch. However, ProPublica’s report claimed the 2010 rule-change allowed it to lease additional fishing quota, while at the same time making it more difficult to track which company is actually doing the fishing, allowing Blue Harvest to essentially circumvent antitrust caps. By law, no company can own more than 15.5 percent of the total allowable catch at any given time.

On 7 October 2022, ProPublica and The New Bedford Light reported the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) may be investigating whether there are possible antitrust issues in the New England Fishing industry. According to the report, representatives of fishing groups have been interviewed by two DOJ lawyers regarding the state of the fishery.

Photo courtesy of National Fisherman

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