I remember when Connors was acquired by George Weston Ltd. in 1967. At the time, it was mainly just another takeover by the big boys, with the usual siphoning off of our resource dollars to folks far, far away. But then the jobs were still there and the CEO Edward McLean, was a local guy who would look after our local interests … or so many thought.
But then in 2004, as the Big Boys are wont to do, Connors Bros. Ltd, which owned the largest sardine processing plant in the world in Blacks Harbour, N.B., merged with San Diego-based Bumble Bee Holdings LP, a privately owned company founded in 1899, whose canned tuna and salmon products dominated Canadian and U.S. markets. The US Justice Department was not totally pleased with this merger and required Connors to divest their Port Clyde sardine snack business.
Now really big bucks were in play! So what led to the current downfall of the new conglomerate?
Well it seems that all that money made some folks do more than just “drool” and Bumble Bee Foods LLC CEO Chris Lischewski was convicted in a price-fixing conspiracy which may result in 10 years in prison and a fine of 1 million dollars. It was alleged that he conspired with others at rival companies “in order to boost prices and meet earnings targets set by Bumble Bee’s 2010 sale to Lion Capital, a private equity firm that provides asset management” It was this investigation by the US Justice Department that pushed Bumble Bee and Connors Bros. Ltd into bankruptcy.
But wait, it’s even more complicated! While Bumble Bee, aka Connors, files for bankruptcy and faces antitrust fines and lawsuits, they have been granted Chapter 11 reorganization and Bumble Bee aka Connors, is in talks with FCF Fishery, a so-called stalking-horse bidder from Taiwan.
A “stalking-horse bid” sets a floor for any other offers that emerge in a court-supervised sale. Now there’s a quaint way to manipulate!
And just so we all understand, an LLC (limited liability company) is a business entity that provides liability protection for owners and members and pass-through taxation. In other words you can “get away” with many indiscretions in an LLC … hence the “limited liability” part
So let’s get this straight. Once Connors Bros. Ltd, our beloved and vital local seafood producer that provided local jobs, was sold to good old Galen Weston, our vital fishing asset became nothing more than an “object” for financial manipulators to play with; impacts on local folks around the Bay be damned. 20 years ago the business came under the control of Lion Capital, an asset management company that could care less about the fishing communities. And play they have … to the point where there are no longer any guarantees that the vital local herring industry will survive.
Perhaps it’s time to go back to the very beginning when fishing families like mine on our islands and along our coast, managed their own processing facilities and worked together to market their products throughout North America and beyond.
Will we have the collective community will to reset our local fishing industry or will we continue to bend to the will of the money dealers?
“When you sell your community assets you have no future.”
That’s how I see it tonight. Art MacKay