TENANTS HARBOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - Maine's troubled lobster industry has been talking about the need for more lobster processing plants. This week, a brand new one starts up.
Kyle Murdock from Monhegan Island, who grew up in a fishing family, is ready to begin cooking and freezing lobster at Sea Hag Seafood in Tenant's Harbor. Murdock has been working on the project for more than two years, and has convinced a lot of other people -including investors-- to become part of his dream.
At just 23 years old, Murdock may seem an unlikely CEO. But he has the quiet confidence of a man who knows exactly what he's doing. Murdock was studying physics and mathematics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute when he got the idea for a lobster processing plant, and then found the former Great Eastern Mussel building in Tenants Harbor. So he left college and started working to bring his dream to life.
Murdock told NEWS CENTER in the winter of 2011 that he wanted to provide new places for Maine lobstermen to market their catch. Since then he has spent countless hours researching, planning and raising money. "And it was just a matter of getting people to turn around and see the plant the way I saw it," says Murdock, "and I managed to find some people who were at least willing to try to see it that way."
He has raised about $500,000 from private investors, including members of his family. Murdock says Camden National Bank believed in the dream, too, and loaned the balance of roughly $2 million to get the plant up and running.
The most expensive single item, says Murdock, was the state-of-the-art refrigeration system installed by a company from Newfoundland, which specializes in freezing and refrigeration systems for businesses such as his.
The entire system, he says, cost close to $1 million, but it is key to the whole operation. He says the will freeze raw lobster tails and cooked lobster meat. Flash-freezing at -30 degrees, says Murdock, is the key to producing a quality product. He studied plants in Canada, where lobster processing is far more common than in Maine. And Murdock hired both a Canadian consultant and an experienced plant operator to be his production manager.
He admits there have been many challenges, but one of the biggest was resolved fairly quickly. Murdock says he was able to sign up several buyers to purchase the lobster meat from the plant, and he's hoping to soon be processing 20,000 pounds of live lobster per day. That amount, he says, won't strain the equipment or the staff, and will allow the company to "more than break even".
The business has hired about 30 workers so far and is in the process of adding more. Sandra Hume, the Plant Manager, says the workers are excited about being part of the new business and say they're glad to have the jobs. Kyle Murdock says he hopes to prove that "it's not impossible to start up a lobster processing plant in Maine", and he says there is a need for more of them.