Group reopening fish plant  

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff file photo/NSD Seafood has closed on a deal to purchase all of National Fish & Seafood's assets, with plans to refire operations, possibly as soon as this week, at the former National Fish facility at 159 Main St.

On May 10, it was over. The board of directors of East Gloucester-based National Fish & Seafood, without warning and effective immediately, closed the seafood processor and 180 employees suddenly were out of work.

Now, in the second stunning development of the past fortnight, the next incarnation of National Fish is rising from its own ashes.

On Wednesday, NSD Seafood closed on a deal to purchase all of National Fish's assets, with plans to refire operations, possibly within a week, at the former National Fish facility at 159 Main St. 

The new entity will be called Atlantic Fish & Seafood.

"NSD Seafood is purchasing the assets of National Fish & Seafood," said Nicholas M. Osgood, a principal in NSD Seafood along with two other partners from the NSDJ Real Estate company that owns the 159 E. Main St. property and facility. "I would expect to bring back as many workers as we possibly can, as many as the business and our growth will allow."

Osgood declined to state what NSD Seafood paid for the National Fish assets.

The asset acquisition came together in strikingly quick fashion considering the complexities of National Fish's ownership structure and the abrupt nature of its shuttering.

Roughly 60 percent of the company was owned by Pacific Andes International Holdings, which itself is immersed in a highly complicated bankruptcy, and 40 percent by Jack A. Ventola, the founder and former company president now in the midst of serving a two-year, federal prison sentence for filing false tax returns.

"It's been a bit of work to get to this point," Osgood said. "There have been a lot of moving pieces."

The acquisition clearly is a victory for the former National Fish employees and for the city, which mobilized quickly to work with state workforce agencies and local employers to provide informational resources and a job fair to the displaced workers — most of whom are are hourly or seasonal workers.

The May 10 closure, announced about 3:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, was a stinging surprise to the city and Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, who chastised National Fish for its insensitive handling of the closure and vowed to help the workers.

Smoothing the acquisition

On Wednesday, Romeo Theken hailed the efforts to resuscitate the closed operations along the Gloucester waterfront.

"Our priority was to assist and support the employees and families impacted by the sudden shutdown," Romeo Theken said. "We worked with the new buyer every step of the way to support and foster efforts to get the business up and running as quickly as possible. I'm proud of what we've accomplished."

Osgood expressed gratitude to the city and state for assisting the displaced workers and providing resources to smooth the acquisition of the National Fish assets. He singled out Peabody-based North Shore Bank for its assistance in helping navigate the intricate financial structure that allowed the purchase.

Todd Provost, who worked at National Fish since 1997 and was serving as president at the time of its closure, will remain in a senior management capacity with the new seafood business.

"I wouldn't do this unless I was optimistic," Provost said. "We have an unbelievable team, a great group of people."

Osgood said the new ownership group already has begun reaching out to National Fish's longstanding clients and the feedback has been generally positive.

"National Fish has a strong customer base and they enjoy working with our staff, which is very skilled and knowledgeable," Osgood said.

He said new management's strategy is to restart the production lines in phases, starting with the lucrative clam line, followed by its frozen fish line and other products.

"We are looking at order flow for orders that already exist to determine which to fire up first," Osgood said.

40,000 tons of seafood

Osgood also said the new management team expects to relocate its administrative offices from 11-15 Parker St. to the 159 E. Main St. site.

While NSD Seafood will own and operate the new company, NSDJ Real Estate will retain ownership of the East Main Street property and facility.

NSDJ Real Estate, which bought 159 E. Main St. from Americold for $6 million in 2017, has four partners — Osgood, Shawn S. Hynes, David N. Hynes and James V. Montagnino. Montagnino is not  listed as a partner in the new ownership entity.

The May 10 closure seemed to be the end of the National Fish story, one that has been marked in recent years by financial problems — some related to inconsistent funding policies by parent Pacific Andes — and criminal convictions of Ventola, senior sales executive Richard J. Pandolfo and former outside accountant and board member Michael Bruno.

National Fish, which processed about 40,000 tons of frozen seafood annually at its 66,000 square-foot facility, also was involved in a highly publicized corporate espionage lawsuit against former employee Kathleen Scanlon and seafood competitor Tampa Bay Fisheries.

In its suit, National Fish claimed Scanlon stole trade secrets and confidential information from National Fish while on her way out the door to begin a new job at Tampa Bay Fisheries.

The federal lawsuit was settled in March, with the details of the settlement sealed.

Now the page is turned. National Fish is the past and a new seafood company is rising up on the East Gloucester shoreside to take its place.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.