Whole Foods, city talk next steps

Joseph Prezioso/File photo/Whole Foods trucks are loaded with product at the Pigeon Cove Seafood processing plant on Parker Street on June 17. Whole Foods is shuttering the plant on Aug. 15.

If the impending shuttering of Whole Foods Market's Pigeon Cove Seafood operation has a silver lining, it may be this: the shifting of seafood processing to an unnamed Massachusetts company could open up another market for fresh Gloucester seafood.

Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken on Monday said she participated in a conference call last Thursday with representatives of Whole Foods and hopes to host a meeting in Gloucester after the Fourth of July to chart the next steps forward for the city and the approximately 60 workers expected to be displaced by the planned Aug. 15 closing.

Romeo Theken said Whole Foods, which announced June 14 that it was closing its Pigeon Cove operations, confirmed that the seafood processing currently operating at the 22,500 square-foot facility at 15 Parker St. will move to another Massachusetts seafood processor.

Neither Romeo Theken nor Whole Foods would identify the new Bay State processor for Whole Foods.

But the mayor said she reached out to a senior executive at the new processing company to get a sense of how they operate and whether they might become a customer for locally landed fresh seafood — either for Whole Foods or other seafood purveyors.

"I confirmed that they buy Massachusetts fish, so I and my team will continue to talk with them about buying Gloucester Fresh," Romeo Theken said, referring to the city's campaign to brand the fresh seafood landed locally.

Romeo Theken also said she plans to contact Whole Foods' operations department "to learn more about the next steps for the facility at 15 Parker St."

Whole Foods' lease at the Parker Street site is not set to lapse until November 2020. Romeo Theken said she is interested in finding out whether the company is willing to sublet its state-of-the-art space to other seafood processing operations looking to expand.

The mayor said Whole Foods executives assured her they will be "actively addressing the needs of the displaced workers." The company told her the affected employees will be offered employment and training opportunities at other Whole Foods Markets, as well as some severance and unemployment benefits.

She said the city and state employment agencies — including MassHire — will organize a job fair and informational gathering for displaced Pigeon Cove workers. It will, she said, be similar to the event organized to help workers who lost their jobs when National Fish & Seafood abruptly closed its East Gloucester operations on May 10.

"I've already been contacted by several employers who participated in the previous job fair and they continue to be interested in hiring the displaced workers," Romeo Theken said.

Many of the National Fish workers were rehired by the new Atlantic Fish & Seafood company that now operates at the former National Fish facility at 159 E. Main St.

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