NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — Blue Harvest Fisheries will soon shut down its waterfront fish processing plant in New Bedford.

The groundfish processing plant will officially close in May. Blue Harvest said all 64 employees who work there will be laid off at that time.

The move is part of a “strategy shift to modernize and realize [the] potential” of its groundfish operations, according to Blue Harvest.

“Our intent remains to increase our utilization of these well-managed fisheries with healthy biomass, but not currently achieving maximum sustainable yield,” Blue Harvest said in a statement. “To do so, we are focused both on investing in a modern groundfish fleet and developing the next generation of fishermen to take that fleet to sea.”

(Courtesy: Blue Harvest Fisheries)

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell released a statement saying his main concern is helping the families of the affected workers.

Mitchell said he’s been in communication with Blue Harvest and is urging them to coordinate with MassHire Greater New Bedford and the Office of Labor and Workforce Development, “…so that workers have access to the support services they need to be able to transition as quickly as possible to employment with other local businesses.”

Blue Harvest said it’s working with Mitchell’s office and MassHire to help its employees with the transition.

“We believe that this change will provide a long-term benefit to the fishery, as it will allow us to focus on expanding the quality and capacity of our fleet,” the statement continued. “We look forward, in the not-too-distant future, to the resumption of processing operations that will complement the most modern fleet in New England waters.”

In February 2020, Blue Harvest bought ships that used to be part of the fleet owned by Carlos Rafael, also known as “The Codfather.” Rafael was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison in 2017 for ignoring fishing quotas and smuggling profits overseas.

“Our initial strategy following this purchase was to maintain and improve those vessels, keeping them in operation to fish the acquired permits,” Blue Harvest said. “However, after two years of operating these vessels, including making significant investments in needed upgrades and repairs, it has become clear that a more modern fleet is necessary as we look to the future.”

Blue Harvest said it will be pivoting its focus to constructing and acquiring the modern, up-to-date fleet it needs “to operate in the contemporary, competitive seafood harvesting and production marketplace.”

Blue Harvest employs over 400 people in total.