Connors Bros., a major producer of seafood products in New Brunswick, has filed for protection from creditors, but it has reassured fishermen and others who depend on the company that things will carry on as usual.
The Blacks Harbour company employs about 800 people at peak season and up to half that number at other times, village Mayor Terry James said.
Operations will continue as the company restructures, according to documents. A company spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Records filed in Ontario show Connors Bros. has commenced court-supervised restructuring proceedings under Canada’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act after getting an order from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
Bumble Bee, the company’s U.S. affiliate, filed for Chapter 11 protection on Nov. 21.
In Canada, six affiliated companies, including Cloverleaf Holdings Company, Connors Bros., have filed for creditor protection.
A list of secured creditors in Canada includes Brookfield Principal Credit LLC at $190 million and Wells Fargo Capital at $46 million.
A long list of unsecured creditors include NB Power at $257,000 and the Village of Blacks Harbour at $19,000.
A statement from insolvency trustees Alvarez & Marsal Canada Inc. of Toronto suggests the company plans to continue its operations.
“It is the monitor’s understanding that Clover Leaf intends to pay pre-filing amounts to suppliers and employees in the ordinary course.”
Little change expected
That’s the understanding of Melanie Sonnenberg of the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association.
Sonnenberg said the company reached out to the group to assure members that there would be no interruptions in operations, and that bills would continue to be paid.
“Everybody is just going along as normal,” said Sonnenberg. “The message that’s been coming out of the company from the head office is that it’s business as usual. And we’ve heard that consistently from the Blacks Harbour plant.”
Sonnenberg said the Connors Bros. plant is the last one in North America that cans sardines.
In my 16 years as mayor of Blacks Harbour this company has changed hands at least four times.
– Terry James, mayor of Blacks Harbour
She estimated about 200 people on Grand Manan are involved in the herring fishery in one way or another.
James, the mayor, said she expects little to change on the employment front in her community a 45-minute drive west of Saint John.
“In my 16 years as mayor of Blacks Harbour this company has changed hands at least four times,” she said.
“Each time there are concerns regarding employment opportunities for our people, all of which have been unfounded.”
James said of greater concern to her is the fact the company owns the municipal water supply.
“Each time the company changes hands, so does the ownership of our water source. … This is the only community in the province where a municipal water source is owned off site and by private industry.”
In a news release Nov. 21, Bumble Bee Foods, the U.S.-based parent of Connors Bros., announced it had reached “an asset purchase agreement” with affiliates of FCF Co. Ltd. to acquire the company’s assets for about $925 million US.
FCF, based in Taiwan, is one of the world’s largest seafood products suppliers.
Once a company town
The Village of Blacks Harbour has already suffered the largest tax-base reduction in New Brunswick. Connors Bros. operations account for about 30 per cent of the property taxes there.
The village’s 2020 tax base has fallen $5.85 million (about nine per cent) from the 2017 level. Most of that is from tax-base reductions at the Connors plant.
Connors Brothers has been a large presence in New Brunswick since it was launched in 1893 by brothers Lewis and Patrick Connors.
It once operated Blacks Harbour as a company town, building housing for workers, along with a school and a store.
The company still operates its own fleet of herring vessels.