PORTLAND, Maine — Shuttered since April, the nation’s last full-time sardine cannery is getting a new lease on life with its purchase by a Massachusetts company that intends to process lobster at the factory, officials said Friday.
Live Lobster Co. on Friday completed the deal to buy the Stinson Seafood plant in Gouldsboro, costing nearly 130 jobs, said Live Lobster President Antonio Bussone. The purchase price was not disclosed.
“We are humbled to assume control of such an historic property,” Bussone said in an e-mail statement. “We understand the facility has long been entrenched with ties to the fishing industry and the community, and it has instilled the values of hard work and passion upon all who work and reside nearby. We promise to continue in this tradition.”
Live Lobster originally wanted to close the deal in October, then January. While late, the deal is welcome news for local officials.
The company has said it hopes to hire 30 to 40 people and to start buying lobster and selling bait at the former cannery this spring. Eventually, Bussone says, the company plans to establish a lobster-processing operation at the site.
Gouldsboro Town Manager Eve Wilkinson said there will be additional hurdles, but establishing ownership is a key to moving forward.
“If in fact Mr. Bussone can pull off a state-of-the-art lobster processing plant, it would be wonderful,” Wilkinson said. “It would be a great opportunity for people in our community and the surrounding area to have jobs.”
It was the end of an era when the Stinson plant shut down.
There once were scores of sardine canneries along Maine’s rocky coast, but production peaked six decades ago. Since then, sardine production declined to the point that the Stinson sardine plant was the last one standing.
San Diego-based Bumble Bee said it was forced to close the facility because of sharp cuts in the amount of herring that fishermen are allowed to catch in New England waters.
Even without supply problems, the plant had been under pressure from shrinking consumer demand, along with increased foreign competition.
In the humble sardine’s heyday, there were as many as 75 sardine canneries in Maine alone in 1900, when workers packed sardines in their lunch pails before heading to work. Production in Maine peaked at 384 million cans in 1950.