PORTLAND (AP) — A deal is close to save the plant that was the nation’s last sardine cannery and use it to process lobsters and other types of seafood, the Maine governor’s office said Thursday.
A seafood-processing company has signed a nonbinding letter of intent to buy the Stinson Seafood plant from Bumble Bee Foods LLC, said David Farmer, spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci. He did not name the prospective buyer.
The announcement came on the final day of sardine processing at the plant in the eastern Maine village of Prospect Harbor. Its closing marks the end of 135 years of sardine processing in the United States.
A new owner would use the plant to process lobster and other seafood, but probably not sardines — any of dozens of small, oily, cold-water fish that are part of the herring family.
Bumble Bee announced in February it was shutting down the Stinson cannery after a century of operation, putting nearly 130 employees out of work.
At one time, there were dozens of canneries in Maine putting out more than 300 million cans a year at their peak.
But the number of canneries tumbled as U.S. consumption fell and foreign competition increased. Bumble Bee said it was forced to close the Stinson plant because sharp cuts in the amount of herring that fishermen are allowed to catch in New England waters has made it difficult to get enough fish to pack as sardines.
Since the announcement, several companies have told state officials they might be interested in the plant to process lobster or other seafood.
The governor hopes to announce a deal by mid-May, Farmer said.
Bumble Bee officials said they couldn’t discuss the status of discussions with any buyers due to confidentiality obligations, but hoped to complete a sale in the next month or two.
“We appreciate the support that the governor and the state have offered in the effort to quickly transition the facility to a new owner,” said Bumble Bee CEO Chris Lischewski.
Farmer said the prospective buyer has indicated it would give hiring preference to current cannery employees.