Massachusetts-based groundfish and scallop supplier Blue Harvest Fisheries on Tuesday defended itself against allegations that the company, which is backed by a subsidiary of a German investment group, is the subject of an investigation into fleet consolidation and foreign investment by the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
A series of stories published by investigative nonprofit ProPublica this year scrutinized Blue Harvest's activities in the New England fishing sector, including its quota holdings and its foreign ownership.
Blue Harvest is partly owned by $500 million (€515 million) private equity group Bregal Partners, a subsidiary of Bregal Investments, in turn a subsidiary of Germany-based COFRA Holding.
US regulations have strict rules on the percentage of harvesting assets a non-American individual or company can hold.
Bregal, however, said Tuesday it is complying "with all federal regulations in operating its groundfish fleet, including rules regarding fleet consolidation and foreign investment."
ProPublica on Oct. 7 that said the DOJ was conducting interviews concerning antitrust practices among major Massachusetts fishing companies, following up on the news reports.
The ProPublica reporting published in July claims the DOJ allegedly based its investigation on companies linked to private equity firms and foreign investors that have taken over much of New England’s fishing industry."
The investigation interviewed fishermen who complained about deteriorating working conditions and "lax antitrust rules governing how much fish [companies] can catch."
ProPublica has reported that over past seven years, Blue Harvest purchased the rights to catch 12 percent of groundfish in the region, approaching the antitrust cap of 15.5 percent set by the federal government.
The news outlet further stated the company "boosts its market share by leasing fishing rights from other permit owners," and that there are no antitrust restrictions when it comes to these types of leases.
In its most recent story, ProPublica reported that Blue Harvest was a backer of a failed proposal that would have allowed scallop boat owners to sell up to 5 percent of their allocated days to other boats.
Blue Harvest said Tuesday the company was not backing the proposal, stating "it has played no part in the debate over the measure."
Blue Harvest has been selling off its scallop harvesting assets in recent years and building a new, nine-boat fleet of groundfish trawlers.