N.B. seafood supplier Connors Bros. filed for bankruptcy, selling assets to Taiwanese company

Freshly caught sardines on ice. David Silverman/Getty Images
Connors Bros. Clover Leaf Seafoods Company, which owns a fish processing facility in New Brunswick, has filed for bankruptcy due to its American affiliate Bumble Bee Foods debt of approximately US$820.8 million.
The San Diego-based Bumble Bee Group, through its subsidiaries and affiliates, including Clover Leaf, is one of North America’s leading suppliers of shelf-stable seafood. It produces and markets its products under a number of brands, including Bumble Bee, Beach Cliff, Snow’s, Brunswick and Clover Leaf.
The Bumble Bee Group’s products include various canned and packaged seafoods, such as tuna, salmon, oysters, mussels, clams, shrimp, crab, lobster and sardines.
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To reduce the company’s debt burden, Bumble Bee announced on Nov. 21 that it’s selling approximately $925 million of its assets to Taiwanese-based company FCF Co, Ltd.

As part of the sale transaction, Bumble Bee’s Canadian affiliate, Connors Bros. has sought approval on Nov. 22 of the appointment of Alvarez & Marsal Canada Inc. as the Monitor to oversee the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) proceedings, as shown by bankruptcy records filed in Ontario.

Clover Leaf currently employs approximately 650 people in Canada, including around 600 in New Brunswick, who are primarily at the Blacks Harbour Facility. However, staffing levels at the fish processing plant fluctuate during the year based on seasonality in the fishing.

According to Jan Tharp, president and chief executive officer for Bumble Bee, “all U.S. and Canadian operations continue uninterrupted” despite the bankruptcy and selling off assets.

“Employees will get paid, our customer partners can count on us to continue delivering outstanding brands and services, and vendors will be paid in the ordinary course of business,” added Tharp in a media release.

The Village of Black Harbour mayor, Teresa James, says that when she heard about the bankruptcy she wasn’t overly concerned.

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“I’ve been mayor for 16 years and I think the company has changed ownership three or four times,” said James. “History has indicated that operations do continue.”

The company’s insolvency trustees, Alvarez & Marsal Canada Inc., based in Toronto said in its first Monitor report filed on Nov. 24 that “Clover Leaf intends to continue to pay its employees and third-party suppliers in the ordinary course.”

“Clover Leaf intends to continue funding the three pension plans and all other employee-related costs and benefits in the normal course. The Monitor understands that Clover Leaf is current in all of its funding obligations in respect of these plans and related costs,” it added.

James said the plant doesn’t only impact those who live in Black Harbour, but it also impacts the greater community of Charlotte County, Saint John and Saint Stephen.

“I know that the company buses workers from those destinations,” she said, adding that Connors Bros. also owns the village’s water supply.

“That’s my greatest concern. That concerns me more than the employment issue because if you don’t have water, you don’t have housing, you don’t have community. They own our municipal water source, which is offsite,” James said.

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According to the mayor, Connors Bros. own the water source in the Beaver Penfield area.

“I’ve tried for the past 16 years to secure the water source and have the municipality own it, but I have been unsuccessful,” James said.

“I’ve also had the province’s help, but it’s private. That’s it, and it’s viewed as such, but my greatest concern is that each time that company changes hands or ownership of our water, our water source does too,” she added.

Global has reached out to New Brunswick’s Connors Bros. and Bumble Bee Group in San Diego for further comment on the bankruptcy and water supply situation, but no one was available for immediate comment.

“We’ve been lucky so far… and one of these days we could have the rug pulled out from underneath us,” James said.

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