NEW BEDFORD — Blue Harvest Fisheries is set to shut down all fishing operations on Friday, its fishermen were told this week. It marks the last in a cascade of sales and closures for the billionaire-backed business venture that once aimed to “dominate” the New England fishing industry but ended up overcapitalized and belly up on the dock. 

The company launched in 2015, flush with private equity capital, and expanded at a rapid clip to become the single-largest groundfish permit holder in New England. It still owns the permits and vessels, but seafood industry sources say, after the shut down, a quick sale or bankruptcy filing is likely. 

“A big rise leads to a big fall,” said Luke deWildt, captain of the Teresa Marie IV, watching from the helm as 149,180 pounds of mostly redfish and pollock was unloaded at the BASE Seafood Auction on Wednesday night. It was business as usual when he set out on the trip 10 days ago, he said. But on return, he said he received a call from management: “They told us, on Friday, they’d be chaining the doors shut.” He said his trip was the last for the Blue Harvest fleet. 

Blue Harvest could not be reached for comment. But the news quickly whipped around the waterfront on Wednesday, stirring up both agitation and concern from the company’s fishermen, supporting businesses and seafood buyers. 

“It’s a scary forecast,” said Tor Bendiksen, president of Reidar’s Manufacturing, a family-owned company that supplies trawl gear for Blue Harvest and others. “That company acquired the biggest and best vessels up and down the Northeast. Without those boats running, the whole industry grinds to a halt.” 

“They bought out the smaller businesses. They own a quarter of the groundfish fleet. And then they just tie the boats up and walk away,” said Jared Auerbach, founder of Red’s Best, a seafood distributor that buys groundfish from Blue Harvest. “Where does the industry go from here?” 

Most fleets on the New Bedford waterfront have been built up over decades, even generations. But with private equity capital injected into the company, Blue Harvest was able to anchor itself amongst the ranks of the largest companies on the East Coast in just under a decade. 

Blue Harvest Fisheries on Herman Melville Boulevard. Credit: Tony Luong / Special to The New Bedford Light

The company was founded in 2015 with the stated goal of “dominance” over the lucrative scallop industry, later expanding into groundfish and importing fish from overseas. It first bought a large scallop fleet in Virginia before charging up the East Coast, snatching up midsized fleets between Maine and New Bedford. It centered its operations on a hulking 220,000-square-foot processing plant with 700 feet of dock space on Herman Melville Boulevard. 

In 2020, Blue Harvest notably acquired 12 vessels and 27 permits from Carlos Rafael, the 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 that had long dominated the New England groundfish industry. 

The acquisition spree was backed by Bregal Partners, a private equity firm with a focus on acquiring “fishing rights.” The firm is ultimately owned by a family of Dutch billionaire industrialists — the Brenninkmeijer family. 

The family, known for their ownership of a multinational clothing company called C&A, has been described by Forbes as “highly secretive” and a “global powerhouse” in the retail industry. Their business spans the globe, including: timber in South America, shopping plazas across Europe, sweatshops in Bangladesh, offshore wind manufacturing in the Netherlands and natural gas drilling in Appalachia. 

The vaguely benevolent family motto — “in business for good” — is splashed over their holding company’s website. And in rare interviews, members of the Brenninkmeijer family present themselves as impact investors focused on sustainability, stewards of the natural resources in their portfolio, and dedicated to addressing the “dual crisis of inequality and climate change.” 

With the launch of Blue Harvest, the company struck a similar tone. It set its goal as “transforming the commercial fishing industry into an industry that is defined by sustainability, governed by transparency, and bound to the promise of delivering excellence to every plate.”

It presented a strong image to the media and to industry regulators. For some, it was seen as the saving grace of New Bedford’s groundfish fleet, which had been left to rust at the docks after the sentencing of Rafael. Regulators seemed eager to welcome the white-collar, executive class making their debut in an industry where the only collars tend to be stained and plaid. 

But beneath the surface, there have long been signs that the company was struggling financially. Its rapid expansion was led by former CEO Keith Decker, who resigned in 2021. And under the current CEO, Chip Wilson, Blue Harvest began shedding its assets piece by piece. 

In 2019, Blue Harvest quietly sold off its massive waterfront processing plant for $20 million, leasing back the facility in a move that gave it a quick cash injection but also saddled the company with lease payments. In 2022, it began selling off its fleet of 15 scallop vessels. It is estimated that Blue Harvest netted upwards of $100 million on the divestment, but also lost the revenue from the scallop industry, which is the most lucrative fishery in the Northeast. In May of this year, the company shuttered its processing plant, laying off 64 workers and dashing the company’s goal of building the “first vertically integrated groundfish company on the East Coast,” as Decker proclaimed in 2020. 

“You can’t just throw money at a fishing business and think that’s going to make it a success,” said one industry source, who works for a seafood company in New Bedford. “They were top heavy. Those executive paychecks were very demanding. You had a lot of people relying on what was coming out of that fish hole. There wasn’t enough fish coming in to produce all those paychecks.” 

The financial pressures had a knock on effect on wages for Blue Harvest fishermen. Many complained about excessive charges, like fees for leasing quota or parking the company owned vessel at the company owned dock. A New Bedford Light review of financial statements provided by Blue Harvest fishermen showed that, after the company fees, fishermen received about 7 cents per pound while the company was fetching as much as $2.28 per pound. 

“They maintained the boats well. They were safe. But they charged us for every penny. And then some,” said Randy Waycotte, captain of the Blue Canyon in the Blue Harvest groundfish fleet. 

There are rumors circulating that the company will be bought by Canadian seafood giant Cooke, or that Scott Perekslis, a managing partner at Bregal Partners, will depart from the private equity firm to raise funds to acquire both Blue Harvest and the West-coast trawling company American Seafoods (which is also part of the Bregal portfolio). 

On Wednesday night, as a rare “blue moon” rose over the New Bedford harbor, captain Luke deWildt watched as the last pounds of fish were hauled out of the hold. He calculated that the value of fish lined up in plastic totes on the dock rounded to about $175,000. “If they’re not making money on a trip like that, it makes you wonder what they’re doing,” he said. 

It marked the final voyage for the Blue Harvest fleet, and deWildt reflected on the company’s firm but fleeting grasp on the New England fishing industry. In his 30 years at sea, he said he has seen a handful of companies attempt to monopolize the New England fishing industry. He has even worked for a couple of them, he said. He wasn’t surprised that the family of Dutch billionaire industrialists attempted it this time. And he said he wasn’t surprised that the venture failed. 

“It has happened before and it’ll happen again,” he said. “The question is: who will be next?” 

Email reporter Will Sennott at

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  1. Re: Blue Harvest Closing
    A company that pays 7 cents a pound to its fishermen while grabbing $2.28 a pound for itself deserves to “go belly up on the dock.” New Bedford and its workers deserve better. Closures are always painful, but so is greed and exploitation.

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