I cannot remember which Rockland city councilor it was. In exasperation, he said, “All you have to do is to show up with a suit and shiny shoes and you can get money out of anyone in Maine.” A Harvard degree never hurts.
Snelling Brainard was one of those. The Harvard-educated investor developed a concept that was going to revolutionize national, then international fishing. His SeaBank Corporation formed in 1986 was to develop “longliners,” a Scandinavian concept which would replace the traditional dragger nets with a 30-mile-long fishing line with thousands of baited hooks. The concept was designed to land fish in a more efficient manner with a pristine product. The company went bankrupt with Maine taxpayers holding the bag. The longliner vessels were eventually sold at auction.
The SeaBank proposal joins the ranks of the sugar beet scheme in Aroostook County and the East Millinocket paper mill purchase as an illustration of the dangers of economic development and job growth. FAME bankrolled the sugar beet proposal, the paper mill purchase and Brainard’s SeaBank idea.
In 1984, Brainard talked the Finance Authority of Maine out of $2 million to build a three-boat fleet to be operated out of Frank O’Hara’s docks in Rockland. He quickly missed FAME payments of $207,000 then $92,000. Interviewed by a suspicious reporter (me) Brainard had a ready answer. “You’d think no one was ever late with a payment before.” He was supposed to be bailed out by a $2 million bond issue by Boston Bay Capital, but that idea, like the longliner concept, never really materialized.
It wasn’t just FAME who fell for the idea.
The New York Times supported a second turn at bat after the Maine scheme ended up admittedly “buried in debt.” Brainard was now selling a “daring global venture” to create “billions of dollars in new business for American shipyards threatened by the downturn in military spending and to help undeveloped nations profit from their own undeveloped resources.”
Through his Consolidated Seafood Corporation, he wanted foreign investors to buy into the longliner scheme by investing in American shipyards which would build even more vessels into the market. He found an enthusiastic supporter in Oregon State Professor Richard S. Johnson who told the Times “It sounds to me that he’s thinking through the issues pretty well.” Prof. Johnson was apparently unaware of the Maine failure.
In 1992, Brainard told the Times that he already had orders from 14 countries for 36 fleets with 36 vessels each. He said that Russia had ordered 18 fleets and could order 12 more fleets in a matter of months. “The Russians immediately saw this project as the future of fishing and they wanted in,” according to Frank J. Giovino, Consolidated Seafood Corporation’s representative to the Soviet Union. Brainard told the Times that more than $5 million had already been invested.
Brainard said if he could get the investors from various countries, each fleet could be financed with bond issues of $100 million.
A recent and dutiful Internet search found no record of the new international fleets.
You have to hand it to Brainard. He never gave up, even after he died.
His 2010 obit stated that “Snelling spent his final years pursuing the dream of bringing the longliner concept to foreign nations, like India. The projects fell victim to revolutionary changes in government and did not come to fruition. Many people believe the demise of (fishing) stocks due to overfishing could have been prevented had Snelling’s SeaBank project been adopted nationwide.”
The obit noted that Brainard was a “visionary in real estate and commercial fishing.” He was in the first wave of condominium development In Marblehead, Massachusetts. In the 1960s one condo project in Newport, Rhode Island, was opposed by Janet Auchincloss, the mother of Jackie Kennedy. Brainard won a long court battle but lost the financing and the project.
One new suit. Shiny shoes. Harvard education. How much do you need?
Emmet Meara lives in Camden in blissful retirement after working as a reporter for the BDN in Rockland for 30 years.