TREMONT — C.H. Rich, the lobster wharf at 49 Shore Road in Bass Harbor, is under new management for the second time in three years.
Former CEO Francois Benoit stepped down in late January to pursue outside business ventures, according to Craig Rexroad, North America communications director for Thai Union, owner of Thai Union Canada, the new owner of C.H. Rich. He said the separation was “amicable” and “above the board.”
C.H. Rich, which has been operating for nine decades, was sold to Canadian lobster processor Les Pecheries de Chez Nous of New Brunswick in 2015. A year later, Bangkok-based Thai Union bought the majority of Chez Nous, but Benoit retained a minority share of the company’s Canadian division, Thai Union Canada, and ran the facilities in New Brunswick and Bass Harbor.
Now, Thai Union Canada has full ownership of those facilities.
Benoit’s departure was anticipated, but the company still “had to scramble a little bit and figure out how to move forward,” said Rexroad. In mid-February they entered an agreement with the family-run Daley Seafoods to take full control of the facilities in Canada and operational control of C.H. Rich.
Thai Union had previously sourced products from Daley, but it’s the first time the two companies have worked in this capacity.
“We have a lot of faith in them,” said Rexroad.
Rexroad said he wasn’t aware of any plans to alter the facility’s distribution channels.
“We got interested because the plant was very well run. What we need to do is make sure that it continues on a positive trajectory.”
Jim Dow, a Bass Harbor-based lobsterman, estimated that about 25 fishermen sell their catch to C.H. Rich. The number increased since the wharf changed hands in 2015, he said, when the wharf was able to offer more competitive prices.
Thai Union is the world’s largest canned tuna producer. In the U.S., it’s best known for its Chicken of the Sea brand. After purchasing New Hampshire-based Orion Seafood International in 2015 under its frozen products unit, the company also emerged as one of the largest lobster sellers in the United States.
Three years ago, media investigations revealed that Thai Union was complicit in human rights abuses primarily in their South Asia plants, which prompted the company to take “significant steps to promote safe and legal labor,” according to a report on its website.
Based on a Feb. 20 Thai Union Group press release, the company’s net profit for fiscal year 2017 was up by 14.6 percent to a record-high 6.02 billion Thai baht, approximately $19 million. Sales in North America accounted for 40 percent of the company’s total sales.
Despite this general positive trend, Rexroad said the company’s lobster sales were down, but he didn’t attribute the downturn to the Bass Harbor plant.
“We can look at that across the board, but nothing specific to that facility,” he said.