Blue Harvest Fisheries, a private equity-backed venture that launched in 2015 at New Bedford and grew to become the largest groundfish permit owner on the East Coast, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The move comes after operations abruptly ended Sept. 1 at the company’s New Bedford plant. Publicly the company has been silent but fishermen who worked for it as independent contractors were told the company would stop fishing.
The Sept. 8 filings in federal court in Delaware show private equity firm Bregal Partners, with ties to the wealthy Brenninkmeijer family of Dutch industrialists, as owning 89.5 percent of the parent company that owns Blue Harvest vessels, permits and other assets, the New Bedford Light reported Sept. 11.
In March Blue Harvest laid off 64 plant workers, in what it said was a temporary suspension of processing activity while it concentrated on modernizing its fleet. Industry publication Undercurrent News reported 17 more workers were laid off in mid-August.
Aiming to consolidate a vertically integrated business with its own fleet and processing, Blue Harvest entered New Bedford via the scallop business, developing a waterfront processing plant and acquiring existing boats in the New Bedford fleet. Its most notable expansion came in 2020, when Blue Harvest acquired 12 boats and 27 permits formerly held by Carlos Rafael, who had been convicted of federal fraud charges and was required to liquidate those assets.
The Rafael transaction was hailed at the time by New Bedford city and state officials, who had worried those boats and the jobs they sustained would be sold out of the port. Likewise the purchase early this year of the 90-foot dragger Nobska, built in 2019 at Fairhaven, Mass., was portrayed by Blue Harvest as “the first step in implementing the company’s plans for the future of its groundfish operations.”
In fall 2022 Blue Harvest was on the defensive after investigative news stories by ProPublica and the New Bedford Light called into question the company’s foreign investment and role in New England fleet consolidation.
“Blue Harvest Fisheries actively manages its quota and follows all federal regulations. This includes limits on the amount of quota that we are able to own, and keeps us below the caps set by law,” Blue Harvest said in an October 2022 statement.