Tuesday, December 10, 2013
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Kyle Murdock, president and CEO of Sea Hag Seafood, left, and Ryan Jackson of Rockport Mechanical Inc. walk back to the processing plant after discussing the repairs needed to the pump house on Long Cove in Tenants Harbor on Monday. The pump house provides seawater for the plant to process lobster.
Photos by Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer
Kyle Murdock stands in front of lobster crates at the new plant.
Maine Coast Shellfish in York also processes lobster. Two other plants closed earlier this year: Live Lobster in Gouldsboro and Portland Shellfish Co., which was closed by federal regulators in April for "numerous violations" of federal laws and health regulations.
Though doubters contend that Murdock will have a tough time getting enough lobsters to keep his plant running, or enough connections among dealers and buyers, Murdock said he's got contracts and plenty of suppliers.
"Having grown up in the area and the industry, I have a lot of connections with dealers and lobstermen," he said.
Still, he has had his challenges.
Finding workers continues to be a challenge, with the plant due to open in less than a week. He needs at least 35 to 40 workers to get the plant going. As of Monday, he had about half that many.
Eventually, the plant could have more than 100 workers. But getting to that level will be tough.
Murdock will pay $8 an hour to start, with shifts running eight to 10 hours a day, six days a week. Minimum wage in Maine is $7.50 an hour.
"Finding employees has turned into a little bit of a problem," Murdock admitted. "We've got some good people, people who can work and learn. Nobody in this area has done processing before -- everyone has to be trained."
Murdock will employ some inmates from the state's Bolduc Correctional Facility in nearby Warren, and workers from an employment firm.
The unemployment rate in Knox County was 6.4 percent in June, below Maine's overall rate of 7.5 percent.
"We've had quite a few applicants, but we need people who are willing to work six days a week," Murdock said.
Linda Bean made similar comments last week, saying it's difficult to find people to work for $8 or $9 an hour processing lobster.
"We need all kinds of processors in Maine," Bean said, when asked about the pending opening of Sea Hag Seafood. "We need more plants but we can't sell the product for enough to get incentivized to spend $2 million on a plant, compliance and labor."
"It does speak to a broken welfare system," Murdock said. "A lot of Americans are not willing to work for minimum wage."
Regardless of low lobster prices, the expectation of another round or two of shedding -- and therefore more soft-shelled lobsters -- and the cost of finding workers, Murdock thinks Sea Hag Seafood can make a go of it.
He said, "It's all lobstermen have been talking about for years: 'We need more processing here in the state where we catch.' "
Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:
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Kyle Murdock, president and CEO of Sea Hag Seafood, walks to the pump house on Long Cove in Tenants Harbor on Monday. Behind Murdock is the Sea Hag Seafood processing plant.
Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer