BUCKSPORT — This former mill town still has a ways to go, but two new projects could turn the inland river city into a mecca for seafood lovers.
Portland-based Whole Oceans is immersed in developing a land-based recirculating aquaculture facility that will, it hopes, eventually produce more than 44 million pounds of Atlantic salmon on the site of the former Verso mill, but the first salmon harvest is at least three years away.
Up the road at the Buckstown Heritage Park, though, a Stonington-based lobster company is building a 15,000-square-foot processing plant that will create dozens of new jobs and should be in operation well before the summer fishing season ramps up.
Greenhead Lobster is one of the largest buyers and shippers of live lobster Downeast. Over the past few years, it has expanded its business to process and sell frozen lobster tails and knuckle and claw meat. Now, owner Hugh Reynolds is expanding the processing side of the operation by forming Greenhead Lobster Products, LLC.
The new company is currently building a state-of-the-art lobster processing facility that its human resources director, Tony Kenne, said plans to hire 40 to 50 employees in time for the plant to be up and running “probably” in early June.
While most of the jobs will be seasonal, Kenne said, he expects the company will hire “8 to 10” full-time, year-round employees.
So far, the schedule looks good. By late last week, the new building’s steel walls were up and the roof was expected to go on by week’s end.
The new workforce should have plenty to keep it busy.
Last week, Reynolds said he expects the new company will process between 3 million and 4 million pounds of lobster annually. All of that will come either directly from Greenhead or from other “local” suppliers.
The new facility will use the latest high-pressure pasteurization technology to humanely kill the lobsters and to extend the shelf life of its lobster products. Kenne said the company will primarily produce flash frozen, ice-glazed raw lobster tails and a variety of cooked claw and knuckle-meat products that will be sold frozen or chilled, depending on customer requirements.
The new facility is being financed entirely with private funds, Reynolds said, and no state or federal grants are involved. Its construction reflects, in part, a change in the nature of Maine’s lobster business.
Since its founding more than 20 years ago, Greenhead Lobster has developed a significant business exporting live lobsters to Europe and China. That business is suffering from the Trump administration’s tariff policies.
Higher tariffs on many European and Chinese imports have led to higher reciprocal tariffs on many U.S. exports, live lobsters among them.
Overseas demand for live lobsters hasn’t shrunk, but it is now being filled by Canadian dealers operating under a more favorable tariff structure, Reynolds said.
“I’m off 70 to 80 percent this winter,” Reynolds said. “I’m definitely collateral damage of the trade wars.”
Tariffs notwithstanding, the demand for frozen and other value added lobster products has remained high and processing lobster in Stonington is what is keeping everyone employed at Greenhead through the winter months. Much of that lobster has come from Canada, some of it in the form of live Maine lobsters exported to Canadian buyers and re-imported to be processed.
“I hate to do it,” Reynolds said, “but Canada (Canadian dealers) is already doing it and we have to compete with them.”