St. George board reviews young entrepreneur’s lobster processing plant plans

Posted Jan. 23, 2011, at 3:48 p.m.

ST. GEORGE, Maine — How do the neighbors feel about a 21-year-old man starting a lobster processing facility in town? Pretty good, so long as the place isn’t too smelly, the lights aren’t too bright and it doesn’t cause a lot of traffic in a quiet part of an already quiet town.

St. George’s planning board met Saturday with fish entrepreneur Kyle Murdock, neighbors and the public for an on-site review of Murdock’s plans.

“It went well,” Murdock said Saturday afternoon.

Murdock of St. George was raised by his fisherman father on Monhegan Island. His uncle and brother also fish midcoast waters. He knows the lobster business. So last summer, when he took an extended leave of absence from the physics and differential mathematics program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, he left with a plan.

“We’re aiming to produce a quality Maine seafood product that supports sustainability of the local fishery and the local community,” Murdock said.

Murdock’s application filed at the St. George town office details that he has a purchase agreement to buy the old Great Eastern Mussel Farm on Mussel Farm Road. There, he would start by processing raw, frozen lobster tails, cooked leg meat and knuckles, and minced body meat. He would like to process other fish in the off-season. His business would employ 12 year-round workers and 35 additional seasonal workers, all from the area, he said. The lobster will come from his backyard.

“We certainly see no need to look beyond the local communities around here in the midcoast area,” he said.

Down the road from Murdock, Port Clyde Fresh Catch also processes seafood. Linda Bean’s new lobster processing plant in Rockland is a 20-minute drive from St. George. But Murdock doesn’t consider the local companies his competition.

“I think there is plenty of raw material to go around, and we’ve seen the market shares are healthy this year,” he said. “The real competition is between Maine processors and Canadian processors, at this point. Any additional processors in Maine is certainly helping us.”

The planning board made no decisions at the on-site review. According to the board’s chairman, William Hickey, the group will consider Murdock’s application at a 7 p.m. hearing Tuesday.

In Hickey’s opinion, the business would be good for the town, which has a year-round population of about 3,000 people.

“This would create jobs. It employs as many people as the mussel plant employed and would give people an opportunity to go back to work,” Hickey said Saturday after he got back from inspecting the building. “It’s an industry that focuses on a lot of what the town is about historically — making our living from the sea. They’re going to buy lobsters from Knox County. That certainly has a positive impact.”

Hickey said that because the building was once used for a similar purpose, he might have an easier time getting public support in the town, which does not have zoning ordinances.

If the plan to open the seafood processing plant is approved, Murdock hopes to open in June. Meanwhile, the building would be renovated, including replacing the roof and plumbing, working to meet FDA regulations, resurfacing the driveway and more.

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