Blue Harvest Fisheries announced this week that it has purchased a new trawler, expanding its groundfish operations as the company sells off the last of its scallop fleet.
The 91-foot trawler, originally called the Francis Dawn, will be renamed the Nobska. It replaces a different Blue Harvest vessel, also named the Nobska, which burned at sea in 2021. The charred and gutted vessel has been tied to the company’s dock on Herman Melville Boulevard in New Bedford ever since — declared a total loss at an estimated $2.4 million.
Built by Fairhaven Shipyard in 2019, the vessel is one of the newest in the New England groundfish fleet. Records show that the vessel was last owned by Mark Bichrest, a fisherman based out of Harpswell, Maine.
“We are excited for the opportunities that a new, modern vessel like the Nobska will provide for our groundfish operations,” Chip Wilson, CEO of Blue Harvest Fisheries, said in a written statement.
Blue Harvest is the single-largest groundfish permit holder in New England. It holds permits for about 12% of all groundfish quota, which translates into about 46 million pounds of species like Atlantic cod, haddock, pollock and ocean perch for the current fishing year.
The company was founded in 2015 with the goal of dominating the lucrative scallop industry and has since expanded into groundfish. In 2020, Blue Harvest notably acquired 12 vessels and 27 permits from Carlos Rafael, the infamous New Bedford fishing mogul who pleaded guilty in 2017 to fraud and tax evasion, related to mislabeling fish, and was forced to sell his fleet.
The company’s rapid acquisition spree is backed by Bregal Partners, a New York City-based private equity firm with a focus on acquiring “fishing rights.” The firm is a subsidiary of Cofra Holding, which is owned by one of the wealthiest families in the Netherlands — the Brenninkmeijer family.
As the Light previously reported, it is one company that highlights the growing influence of foreign equity in the domestic fishing industry. In October, The Light also reported that the Justice Department was probing antitrust issues in the fishing industry.
Bregal Partners is also a part owner of American Seafoods, a pollock harvesting giant in the North Pacific that describes itself as the “largest harvester of fish for human consumption in the U.S.”
Blue Harvest Fisheries, based in New Bedford, has expanded at a rapid pace. But last year, the company began to sell off all 15 vessels in its scallop fleet. The move comes as the price for scallops has taken a dive since reaching a peak last year.
The acquisition is part of the company’s plan to double-down on the groundfish industry.
“The Nobska is the first of Blue Harvest’s new investments to upgrade its groundfish operations,” the company wrote in a press release, and “to assemble a new, modern fleet.”
The LLC that previously owned the Francis Dawn, Margaret F Inc., is registered as the owner of six groundfish permits. In total, all six permits represent about 1.6% of the total groundfish quota, including 3.4% of Gulf of Maine haddock, 3% of redfish, 3% of hake, and 2.4% of pollock. It translates to about 6 million pounds of groundfish for the current fishing year.
A spokesman for Blue Harvest clarified that the company bought only the vessel, not the permits. Blue Harvest will be transferring the permit from the defunct Nobska onto the new Nobska.
“They only bought the steel,” he said. “I’m not sure what will happen with those permits.”
Bichrest, who is listed as the former owner, could not be reached for comment.
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