August 5, 2010

Lobsters feed revival Down East

Prospect Harbor facility returning

BY CLARK CANFIELD, Associated Press

PORTLAND — The nation’s last full-time sardine cannery is being given a second life four months after it closed with a company agreeing to buy it and operate it as a lobster-processing facility.

click image to enlarge

Workers fill cans with sardine steaks at the Stinson sardine cannery in Gouldsboro in April. Bumble Bee Foods LLC announced Wednesday that four months after the cannery, the last of its kind in the U.S., was shut down, it will be resurrected as a lobster-processing facility.

AP file photo by Robert F. Bukaty

Bumble Bee Foods LLC announced Wednesday it had agreed to sell the former Stinson Seafood plant in Prospect Harbor to Massachusetts-based Live Lobster Co. Inc.

The plant was the victim of declining sardine consumption and foreign competition, and Bumble Bee shuttered it in April after a century of operation, putting nearly 130 employees out of work.

Live Lobster expects to create up to 40 jobs in the first year and 120 within two years. The plant at first will be used to buy and sell lobsters, with lobster-processing operations beginning next year.

Officials said the purchase was expected to be completed within 70 days. The sales price was not disclosed.

“Live Lobster has assured me that the company is committed to Maine, to Prospect Harbor and to building a state-of-the-art seafood-processing facility,” Gov. John Baldacci said.

At one time, there were dozens of sardine canneries along the Maine coast putting out more than 300 million cans a year at their peak. But the number of canneries fell as U.S. consumption declined and foreign competition increased.

Before the plant closed in April, it was the last full-scale sardine cannery in the U.S. There is a small cannery in California that has been canning small numbers of sardines for a company in Monterey.

San Diego-based Bumble Bee, which bought the Stinson plant in 2004, said it was forced to close the facility because sharp cuts in the amount of herring that fishermen are allowed to catch in New England waters has made it difficult to get enough fish to pack as sardines.
Live Lobster is based in Chelsea, Mass., and operates several plants in Maine.

Company President Antonio Bussone said he fully expects to utilize the Stinson plant to its “maximum capabilities.”

The pending sale was welcomed in Prospect Harbor, which is part of the town of Gouldsboro.

People have anxiously been waiting for someone to take over the plant and get people back to work in a region where jobs are scarce, said Selectman Dana Rice.

“If they plan to open the plant and create jobs, the town will stand behind them and get our people employed,” he said.

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