”We’re not going anywhere.” says Kristian Kristensen.
Almost a year ago, he purchased the assets of the port of Gloucester’s original seafood auction business after the taint of price skimming delivered the coup de grace to a family that had gone deep into debt fighting off years of federal fisheries law enforcement harassment.
Soon after Kristensen took over the operation of the business on Harbor Loop, a tenant on the Ciullas’ property, he changed the name to the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange and introducing a new computer software system that gave real time, reliable figures on prices -- a sticking point for the old regime.
But New England’s dominant auction business, established in New Bedford by the Canastra brothers, Richie and Raymond, had also opened an outlet in Gloucester with great fanfare at Fisherman’s Wharf. That facility, on property owned and renovated by Vito Giacalone, is operated by his three sons for the Canastras.
But Kristensen is a practitioner in the lost art of understatement, possibly due to his Danish upbringing, so the words are best read as a calculated projection rather than a boast.
And nearly a year after his Cape Ann Seafood Exchange began doing business under the lingering cloud of a mysterious lawsuit filed against the Ciullas for allegedly cheating fishermen -- a suit that fell apart for lack of a lawyer prepared to take the case -- Kristensen appears to be beating the odds and holding his own.
Because BASE, the Canastras’ three-headed monster with New Bedford, Boston and Gloucester’s auction outlets, reports to the National Marine Fisheries Service their daily sales in volume and prices as coming from a single source, an apples to apples comparison to Kristensen’s business is impossible to make.
But rough calculations based on the daily landings reports, augmented with interviews with active buyers and sellers and grudging confirmation from the ever cautious and low-key Kristensen, suggests a rough balance has been struck between his Cape Ann Seafood Exchange, or CASE, and the Canastra-Giacalone force’s BASE or Buyer and Seller’s Exchange.
CASE, reporting sales only in Gloucester and BASE, aggregating prices from auctions in all three of its ports for market cod throughout March, the most recent month for which NMFS has published figures, are roughly equal. On some days, CASE prices were a tad higher, and on others BASE got its boats a few cents more.
For what it’s worth, Kristensen’s auction sold a little over 500,000 pounds of fish for its boats in March, while BASE, aggregating Gloucester, Boston and New Bedford’s operations, sold just over 1.5 million pounds of fish during the same month.
For BASE’s advantage of scale -- which includes a major slice of the scallop market, the product that ensures that more money is spent on New Bedford seafood than any other ports -- Kristensen is not without advantages of his own.
Prior to acquiring the auction business from the Ciullas last August, Kristensen, as a tenant, owned and led Zeus Packing Co., which purchased, processed and shipped for export high volumes of low value skate wings and dogfish, as well as high value monkfish tails.
He also operated a whiting export business, transshipping Canadian product to Spain, where his investors were located.
”He is very well-capitalized,” said one long-established fish buyer from both Kristensen and BASE Gloucester’s auctions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity..
Kristensen took issue with that compliment, mumbling “not too well, perhaps.”
But his cooler at CASE is also larger than the storage square footage at BASE’s Fishermen’s Wharf, which the fish buyer noted was a distinct advantage.
Boat loyalty has proved fluid, with some captains toggling between CASE and BASE while others have remained fixed in their ways, once the initial defections from CASE to the Giacalone-Canastra operation were accounted for.
”We’re doing what we’ve been doing from the beginning,” Kristensen said.
He lights up only when talking about the auction software that allows real-time reporting of transactions on a computer application.
“He is a real gentleman,” said the buyer, explaining that he has learned to take Kristensen at his word, however few they may be.
”I have no problem with Kristian,” said Richie Canastra. “I have a problem with the National Marine Fishery Service,” which he said has used bad science, policy and management to undercut the fishermen, making it difficult for both auctions to remain in business in Gloucester.
Kristensen, who relocated to Gloucester from his native Denmark more than a decade ago, said he found the actions of the U.S. government in fisheries impossible to fathom.
He was quick to add that he also had grave concerns that the ocean itself and its occupants had been thrown out of kilter, perhaps by climate change, altering currents and disrupting the behavior of the schools.
”I’m worried they don’t know what’s going on out there,” he said.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.