Mike and Judy Haskins of Bucksport process lobster tails at  Greenhead Lobster Products LLC of Bucksport.

BUCKSPORT, Maine – The latest addition to Bucksport’s budding seafood processing industry plans to start preparing lobster for retail and wholesale markets by the end of September.

The workforce of 16 full- and part-time employees at Greenhead Lobster Products LLC will likely grow to 35 to 40 when operations at the multimillion-dollar facility get underway, Owner Hugh Reynolds said.

Whole Oceans’ $180.6 million land-based Atlantic salmon farm and Maine Maritime Academy annex at the former Verso Paper mill site are the biggest examples of Bucksport’s ongoing transformation from a paper- to an ocean-based economy. Greenhead and a cluster of other seafood processors at the town’s Buckstown Industrial Park are at the opposite end of Bucksport’s transition — small companies taking advantage of the town’s proximity to Stonington, the heart of the state’s seafood industry.

Reynolds said that his business is still recovering from a dramatic contraction of its markets. The lobster fishing and processing company lost 85 percent of its customer base in 2017 due to President Trump’s trade war with China and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, which removed all customs duties for seafood sold between Canada and the European Union.

“It’s not just the Trump tariffs. That’s a misinterpretation,” Reynolds said. “The Trump tariffs are a problem, but Canadians in September 2017 began free trade with Europe, and that ended our European business, and in June of 2018, we lost the business to China due to retaliatory tariffs.”

China represented 25 to 30 percent of his businesses’ trade, with places such as France, Italy and Spain filling in the remaining share of the foreign business, Reynolds said.

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“We’re all domestic now,” Reynolds said. “It’s not easy. It’s very competitive. There’s a lot of other people in my shoes, and we’re all fighting over each other in the domestic [market].”

The high value of lobster as a commodity has helped him transition from an exporter to a servant of the domestic marketplace without too much damage, Reynolds said.

Watch: Where do you see Bucksport in 20 years?

He expects ancillary industries to develop in Bucksport as the town’s seafood processors expand their output. Electricians, truckers, food safety inspectors, and engineers familiar with refrigeration and freezing technologies will be among those needed, he said.

Reynolds hopes to process 3 million to 4 million pounds of lobster, mostly frozen lobster tails, and knuckle and claw meat annually once the plant is fully operational. His business is among six lobster processing centers around the state.

Construction of the factory began late last year. Workers started bringing in machinery in mid-July. Workers on Friday were testing a series of machines that will prepare fresh lobster taken from the company’s Stonington facility for supermarkets and high-end restaurants nationwide, he said.

Judy Haskins, a Bucksport resident who will work in the lobster cook room once it is operational, said the machinery processes lobsters quickly. She worked on a machine that cut and cleaned lobster tails. Workers use other machines to fillet or freeze them.

Workers processed 120 crates that each carried about 80 pounds of lobster in about 5½ hours on Thursday, said Haskins’ husband, Mike, who also works at Greenhead.

“They’re actually killing them humanely and getting them going down the line. When we are all up to high standards. We should be able to put, I believe, six or seven lobsters through a minute,” Judy Haskins said.

The lobsters are processed the day after they are caught, Reynolds said.

“We brought a lot of technology and innovation into this place, and we want to do it right,” Reynolds said.

Watch: The Maine lobster industry

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