SAINT JOHN – Cooke Aquaculture continues to expand globally this year and is about to close the year with another large acquisition – this time in Latin America. A recipient of this year’s national Private Business Growth Award from Grant Thornton and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the company’s achievements earned it the title of Huddle’s New Brunswick Business of the Year for 2018.
The company, owned by the Cooke family of Charlotte County, has had an “exciting” year, said VP Public Relations Joel Richardson. It reported $2.4 billion in annual revenue for 2018.
“Cooke made a number of strategic acquisitions in 2017-2018, including acquiring a seafood distribution company in Florida [in May],” he said. “We have ended the year with the acquisition of one of the world’s largest producers of white pacific organic shrimp in Latin America and additional details of that acquisition are expected to be announced hopefully before Christmas.”
This time last year, Cooke Aquaculture made its largest acquisition ever: a $500-million purchase of Omega Protein, which specializes in fish oil and fish meals. In May, it acquired Miami-based seafood distribution company JC Seafood.
Including the latest Latin American deal, the company will have 9,000 employees across 10 countries. Some 1,853 of those are in Atlantic Canada, many of them are newcomers that have settled and worked for the company for a decade or more.
“At any one time, throughout the Cooke family of companies, we would have approximately 100 vacant jobs available…So it’s important for us to provide employment to Canadians and to people who wish to come to Canada for a new way of life.”
Founded in 1985, Cooke Aquaculture’s head office is based in Black’s Harbour and its global corporate office is in Saint John. Led by CEO Glenn Cooke, the company is not only involved in the aquaculture industry but also wild fisheries, specifically in the U.S. and South America. Some of its operations offer organic seafood products.
The Cooke family of companies sells 17 main species of seafood and operates 657 vessels around the world. It ships 1 billion pounds of seafood – equivalent to 10 Eiffel Towers – to 65 countries annually.
Even through years of aggressive growth, Richardson said the company has stuck to its values of family, community, charitable giving and delivering high-quality products and services in a safe and environmentally sustainable manner.
“One of the most important things to us as a family-owned company is we make every effort to support other local Atlantic Canadian businesses…We buy, annually, $234 million worth of goods and services from 1,269 other local businesses from across Atlantic Canada,” he said.
It was one of the companies in the Saint John region that contributed to relief efforts of this spring’s flood that forced many to evacuate and affected businesses in the province. Cooke dispatched six boats along with professional personnel, sandbags and lifejackets.
Concerns around the environmental impact of sea-farming have risen in various occasions. Richardson said that’s understandable and that Cooke has always been mindful of its environmental footprint.
“In the ocean farming sector, we rely on and need to be stewards of a healthy marine environment and we take that role very seriously. The Cooke family and the company has made significant investments and is recognized globally as leaders in sustainable sea-farming,” he said.
In the last few years, the company has focused on sustainability, investing heavily in research and new technologies for sustainable sea farming operations. The company is moving away from the use of antibiotics and synthetic medicines to all-natural treatments to keep its fish healthy, Richardson said.
The company works with the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews, Dalhousie University, Memorial University and the University of New Brunswick, among others.
“A lot of the innovation and technology in sea-farming and aquaculture globally is being developed right here in Atlantic Canada…Partnerships with post-secondary education institutions and the academic community have been critical to our growth and to our sustainability,” Richardson said.
It’s also a partner in the Fundy Salmon Recovery Program, through which Cooke grows wild Atlantic salmon in the world’s only wild salmon conservation farm near Grand Manan Island. This year, Fundy’s Big Salmon River saw over 70 naturally returning adult salmon – a 29-year-high – as a result of the program.
Cooke Aquaculture plans to continue growing. The next few years will see it boost its transportation and distribution network.
“We plan to continue to grow our transport truck division in Atlantic Canada along the eastern seaboard. We’ll continue to add employees and grow our employees,” Richardson said.