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In the News: June 2011

PEI lobster processing plant closes doors abruptly Ocean Choice International, a Newfoundland-based seafood processing company, announced in later April that it had decided to sell its lobster processing plant in Souris, Prince Edward Island, because the company was headed in a different direction. The decision put 300 people out of work. Ocean Choice purchased the plant seven years ago following the collapse of Polar Foods International. The provincial government is launching legal action against Ocean Choice in an effort to retrieve the $10 million CD which the company owes the government. In addition, the company has not provided severance pay to more than two hundred of its former employees

Maine lobster business to change hands A Chicago-based firm, Mazzetta Company, is in negotiation to purchase the William Atwood Lobster Company of Spruce Head. According to news reports, the new owner plans to purchase lobsters through the company for a processing plant it owns on Prince Edward Island. William Atwood, the current owner, will retain ownership of a Tenants Harbor property and business but will lease it to Mazzetta Company. The Atwood lobster company has the largest shipping facility in Maine Its facilities include a holding building which can store 200,000 pounds of live lobster in refrigerated sea water. The company purchases lobsters from about 70 local boats and from Canadian fishermen. It sells approximately 4 million pounds of lobster throughout the country and the world each year. Mazzetta Company provides many different seafood products under its trademark SEAMAZZ label. Its frozen product line includes warm water lobster tails, cold water lobster tails, claws, minced body meat and whole bodies, plus lobsters harvested specifically from the waters off Tristan da Cunha in South America.

NMFS fines returned to fishermen U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke ordered $650,000 in unjust fines returned to Northeast fishermen, while the nation's oceans chief apologized. New England fishermen had complained for years of abusive treatment, retaliation and excessive fines by the National Marine Fisheries enforcement arm. Secretary Locke appointed special investigator Charles Swartwood in 2010 to investigate allegations following a revealing report by the Commerce Department's inspector general. Swartwood has reviewed 30 cases to date. He has interviewed with 75 people and reviewed more than 100,000 documents. This past month Locke said he was returning money to 11 people and businesses, based on Swartwood's recommendations. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco also apologized for what she called “past mistakes” on behalf of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The bulk of the fines Locke ordered returned came from two cases. Former scalloper Lawrence Yucubian  received $400,000 after he was wrongly coerced into paying a large fine, and about $160,000 went to Agger Fish Company in Brooklyn, N.Y., which was accused of possessing shark fins without the proper permit. Locke also cancelled tens of thousands in unpaid penalties.

Summer dredging of Kennebec River for Navy ship fought by locals Opponents of a plan to dredge the Kennebec River this summer are challenging the state permits for the project. The town of Phippsburg, the Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, a pair of land trusts and several area residents charge that allowing dredging during the summer will harm the region's tourist industry and threaten the livelihoods of dozens of shellfish harvesters, as well as potentially harm endangered salmon and sturgeon which frequent the river. The opponents are appealing Department of Environmental protection permits for the project to the Board of Environmental Protection. The permits would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge two locations in the Kennebec River, in Bath and Phippsburg, and to dump 70,000 cubic yards of sandy material in two coastal locations, including just off Popham Beach State Park. The project could last up to five weeks and involves using a barge with a giant vacuum operating around the clock. The Army Corps of Engineers says is necessary to ensure that the billion-dollar U.S.S. Spruance makes its scheduled September delivery from Bath Iron Works to the Navy. The ship must make it down the Kennebec River to the open ocean without running aground. The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to issue a biological opinion on the effect of dredging on the endangered Atlantic sturgeon and salmon by the end of June.

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