The U.S. Department of Agriculture is buying more than $4.4 million in Northeast groundfish from Blue Harvest Fisheries, which will process the products for distribution to schools and food banks across the country.

The $4,425,480 purchase award from the USDA Commodity Procurement Program to will buy haddock, ocean perch and Atlantic pollock, with deliveries from the Blue Harvest facility in New Bedford, Mass., to begin Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.

It’s the first time in decades that East Coast seafood has been included in the commodities program, which buys farm products for distribution to institutions, nonprofit groups and needy households.

 “Given the uncertainties surrounding the seafood market during the ongoing pandemic, this order will help ensure that the groundfish industry at the New Bedford waterfront can continue working, while providing food security for those who need it most,” Blue Harvest CEO Keith Decker said in a prepared statement announcing the purchase.

Company officials credited the Trump administration and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue for bringing East Coast fisheries in the program. They thanked members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Reps. William Keating and Seth Moulton, all D-Mass., who in May asked Perdue to include East Coast seafood when making purchase agreements funded by the special Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and the USDA’s longstanding Section 32 program.

Blue Harvest’s vessels will catch the fish in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank, and deliver the catches to the company’s New Bedford SQF-certified dockside processing plant. The company’s groundfish business line focuses on less-utilized fisheries with Marine Stewardship Council certifications, with fresh and frozen product.

The company operates its own fleet of 15 scallop and nine groundfish vessels, expanded with the February 2020 purchase of 12 boats and 27 fishing permits from the family of imprisoned fishing magnate Carlos Rafael.

As part of a sentencing agreement for tax evasion and fisheries violations, Rafael had to dispose of all his assets and exit the industry permanently.

In buying the boats Blue Harvest officials committed to keeping the permits – and fishing jobs – in New Bedford. Mayor Jon Mitchell said the USDA commodities purchase is likewise “supporting fishermen by purchasing seafood from the Port of New Bedford, the nation’s top commercial fishing port, during a pandemic that has affected every sector of the economy.”

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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