Posted at: 08/12/2013 8:51 PM
| Updated at: 08/12/2013 9:06 PM
By: Steve Flamisch
GREENPORT -- The fate of a hatchery that supplies saltwater fish to restaurants and supermarkets remained uncertain Monday, with a foreclosure auction looming and about two dozen jobs hanging in the balance.
The owners and shareholders of Local Ocean, 4269 Route 9, were trying to keep the financially-struggling facility in operation, investor Eduardo Bembibre told NewsChannel 13. A few employees remained on duty to feed the fish and maintain a proper oxygen level in the tanks.
"We need more money," Bembibre said by phone from Connecticut. "We came to a point where we decided we need help."
Time is running out.
The property will be offered for sale at a public auction next week, according to a notice of sale filed in state Supreme Court. The auction is scheduled for Tuesday August 20 at 11:00 a.m. on the steps of the Temporary Columbia County Courthouse, 621 State Route 23B, Claverack.
Property owner Michael Spielman told NewsChannel 13 he initiated foreclosure proceedings because Local Ocean was "several months behind" in its mortgage payments. Bembibre said, to his knowledge, Local Ocean had no mortgage.
As the legal process plays out, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) continued to monitor the situation. Officer Jeff Cox said he inspected the tanks Friday and Monday to ensure the fish were receiving the proper care.
"I saw the tanks of fish," Cox said. "Electricity was running. Oxygen was running. They were being fed. So they're fine that way."
DEC asked Local Ocean to provide an exit plan in the event the facility does close, Cox said. The fish would have to be sold with the proper permit, or destroyed and sent to an approved landfill or compost facility, he said.
The people who work at the hatchery were facing an uncertain future, as well.
Greenport Supervisor John Porreca said 19 of the hatchery's 25 employees have been laid-off, but Local Ocean investor Bembibre said their separation had not been finalized. At least six people remained on duty, working rotating shifts.
Porreca said he wants another owner to rescue the facility and retain its staff.
"I've had a couple of interested parties that have called me and have shown an interest," he said. "I've advised them of the public auction so that they might be able to make themselves available."
The supervisor identified Blue Planet Aquaculture, which played a role in building the hatchery, as one of the interested parties. Blue Planet's CEO, Justin Rome Lubin, said he had only recently learned of the situation.
"We are only attempting to assess the situation," Lubin wrote in an e-mail to NewsChannel 13. "But what we can say for sure is that the situation is most likely quite salvageable if the right talent and resources are brought to bear."
Lubin did not say whether he planned to attend the auction.
Greenport Foods was distributing some of Local Ocean's products to restaurants and supermarkets. Price Chopper Spokeswoman Mona Golub said Greenport had "abruptly" stopped supplying the supermarket-chain some time ago, but she said there were no problems with the fish.
Local Ocean raises European seabass, gilthead sea bream, and other species.