GOULDSBORO, Maine — More than a year after one of the largest employers in the Schoodic Peninsula closed its doors and the plant’s future was in doubt, things are starting to take shape inside the cavernous waterfront building in the local village of Prospect Harbor.
The plant, owned by Chelsea, Mass.-based Live Lobster, now has about a dozen employees who are preparing to start processing lobster at the site, hopefully by the third week of July, according to plant manager Peter Colson.
Colson said Tuesday that Live Lobster’s local operation, known as Lobster Web Co., has completed the installation of a 2,200-square-foot bait cooler and for the past few weeks has been selling bait to local fishermen. It also is ready to start buying lobster from area fishermen, he said, even though the plant’s lobster processing facilities still are under construction.
Without any tanks to store the lobster in, he said, Lobster Web will have to ship any lobster it buys to Stonington, where it has another facility where lobsters can be stored.
Colson said there is a new lobster buying station floating next to the plant’s pier that can be used for short-term lobster storage. The company also has a lobster smack or boat called Duchess that it plans to use to go buy lobster from fishermen in nearby harbors, he said.
For the plant to process lobster at the plant into boxed lobster tails and raw, vacuum-packed lobster meat, contractors must finish building a 6,700-square-foot lobster storage tank and two special processing rooms that are designed to meet sanitary standards for processing seafood, Colson said. Cooking tanks and blast freezers also need to be installed before processing can get under way.
On Thursday, dozens of pieces of covered rebar stuck up from the plant floor to mark where the lobster storage tank will be built. Nearby, two large insulated rooms sat empty waiting for contractors to finish installing waterproof white panels on the ceilings and walls. Colson said there was a scheduling gap Tuesday between contractors but that he expected several to resume working at the plant on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, the firm obtained a waste discharge license from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection that will allow it to circulate water in from and back to the adjacent bay for its lobster storage tank and processing operations.
The company has received the town’s endorsement in applying for $400,000 in grant and loan money from the federal Community Development Block Grant program, he said, but has not yet received the funds. Live Lobster has been hoping to use the CDBG funds to acquire equipment it says it needs for the plant’s lobster processing operation. Colson declined to go into further detail about the status of the CDBG application, which has been a controversial issue in Gouldsboro because of concerns town officials have about Live Lobster competing with other lobster buyers in the area.
Besides processing lobster, the facility will be used as a distribution site for shipping live lobster around the country and overseas, according to Colson. He said that he expects the plant initially to employ more than 50 people, 35 of whom will be directly involved in processing operations.
Colson said he plans to give priority to people who used to work at the site for Bumble Bee Foods until the San Diego-based firm shut the former sardine cannery down last year. Live Lobster bought the building from Bumble Bee earlier this year.
“We are interviewing people now and accepting applications,” Colson said.
The roughly dozen employees hired already, aside from himself, include a lobster buyer, a logistics manager, a human resources manager, bait handlers and two maintenance crew members, Colson said. While construction work continues, there also are about 15 to 20 contractors working at the site, he said.
Colson said the initial processing capacity of the plant is expected to be maybe 1,000 pounds total of raw claw and knuckle meat and cooked lobster tails.
“That’s just for getting started,” he said.
One thousand pounds a day is not a lot, he said, but Live Lobster hopes to increase its output many times over as it continues to expand its first-ever processing operation. The entire facility has 117,000 square feet of floor space, he said, and only a fraction of that space will be taken up by the initial processing operation.
In addition to changes inside the plant, the tall fisherman sign outside the plant that for decades depicted a large sardine can in the man’s hands is being altered. In place of the sardine can, a lobster trap with a lobster on top of it is being painted into the fisherman’s grasp. Colson said he expected the sign re-painting project to be completed with the next few days.