GOULDSBORO, Maine —- With only a few more days to go before its renovations and equipment installation is complete, Live Lobster plans to begin processing lobster this week in the former Stinson Seafood cannery, according to a company official.
Antonio Bussone, president of the Chelsea, Mass.-based company, said July 27 that the last pieces of equipment were expected to arrive and be installed within the next few days. Cutting tables, knives and conveyor belts should be in place by mid-week, he said, which will enable the first frozen tails and vacuum-packed meat to come rolling out of the former sardine cannery.
He said the cement floor and walls have been poured for the facility’s 6,700 square-foot lobster storage tank. The company has been selling bait to local fishermen since early June.
Bussone said that, at the time of the July 27 interview, the company had hired 36 people to work at the facility, which will operate as Lobster Web Co. He said that he expects between six and eight more people to be hired by the time operations begin this coming week.
“It should be completed by [this] Friday night,” Bussone said, referring to July 29.
Bussone said the company has applied for and been approved for a $750,000 loan from the Finance Authority of Maine. He said Live Lobster, which is operating in Gouldsboro as Lobster Web Co., plans to use the money to pay for equipment and physical improvements at the plant.
“We’re very thankful FAME considered us,” Bussone said. “They made us feel really special.”
Bussone said he expects it will be a “few weeks” before the company receives the FAME loan.
The Live Lobster official said the company has been approved for a $200,000 grant and a separate $200,000 loan from the federally-funded Community Development Block Program, but has yet to received those funds. He said he is unsure where the funds are in terms of being transferred from Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, which administers the CDBG program in Maine, to the town of Gouldsboro, which had to sign on to Live Lobster’s CDBG application.
Bussone said that, as far as he knows, the CDBG funds have not been held up by the debt ceiling debate in Congress.
“Those funds are ready,” he said.
A voice mail message left last week with DECD officials seeking information about the company’s CDBG grant and loan was not returned.
Live Lobster acquired the former Stinson Seafood sardine cannery in the local village of Prospect Harbor earlier this year from Bumble Bee Foods, which had closed it in April 2010.
When it announced in February 2010 that it was going to close the plant, which was the last remaining sardine cannery in the country, Bumble Bee said the decision was prompted by reductions in federal catch limits on herring, as sardines are known before they are processed and canned.
When the sardine factory closed more than a year ago, it employed 128 people. Live Lobster has said that it plans to rehire many former Stinson Seafood workers, and to employ nearly as many as Bumble Bee did locally, within two years of starting up the lobster processing facility.
The project represents Live Lobster’s first foray into the lobster processing business, which lobster industry officials have said should be expanded in Maine so that less is exported for processing in Canada. Up until now, Live Lobster has been a distributor and exporter that has had between 80 and 90 employees in Massachusetts and at other lobster-buying facilities in Maine.