Buyer sought for Maine sardine cannery

 Maine Gov. John Baldacci and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) have stepped in to help find a buyer for the Stinson Seafood sardine cannery in Prospect Harbor, Maine.

Bumble Bee Foods announced last week that it's closing the facility — the last sardine cannery on U.S. soil — next month after 100-plus years in operation.

The San Diego-based company — which acquired the plant and the Beach Cliff sardine brand in 2004 when it merged with Connors Bros. Income Fund of Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick — attributed its decision to drastic cuts in the Atlantic herring quota in recent years. The quota plunged from 180,000 metric tons in 2004 to only 91,000 metric tons this year.

On Wednesday, Baldacci told the Bangor Daily News that two or three companies are interested in investing in the plant, adding that Bumble Bee is willing to look at partnering with another processor that would operate the plant, which employs about 130 workers. There's even talk of converting the sardine cannery into a lobster processing plant, reported the newspaper.

Also on Wednesday, Snowe announced that she will meet one-on-one with Bumble Bee CEO Chris Lischewski on Tuesday to discuss potential partners.

"If we allow the last American sardine cannery to follow the rest of the industry — in Maine and throughout the nation — and become part of our history instead of a contributor to our economy, it will represent a major blow to one of the hardest hit corners of our state," said Snowe. "I intend to do everything in my power to save these jobs and keep this working waterfront facility operational. In my meeting with Mr. Lischewski next week, I hope to convince him that there is ample opportunity for seafood processing in Maine, and to gain his commitment to work with me and the governor's office to explore all possibilities for the future of this historic plant.

"Furthermore, I pledge to work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure they are providing sufficient oversight of fisheries scientists, as well as adequate funding to carry out fisheries research on the Gulf of Maine herring population that will allow harvest levels to be increased as soon as the science confirms such action will not harm the long term sustainability of the stock," she added.

Scientific uncertainty, not overfishing, is to blame for NMFS' decision to slash the Atlantic herring quota in recent years, reported SeaFood Business Associate Editor James Wright in his column "End of an(other) era" on Friday.


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