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#384805 - 07/29/10 04:40 PM Mena Group of Companies go into receivership  
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Mena Group of Companies go into receivership

[Linked Image] There is dire economic news to report tonight. Sources close to News Five say that the Mena group of companies has been placed into receivership by its bankers. The Fresh Catch Limited Belize, the tilapia farm which opened in 2002, was reportedly unable to remain sustainable and the company was defaulting in loan payments. Fresh Catch is estimated to have run into millions of dollars in debt with the FirstCaribbean Bank. The other Mena company, the more established Wood Depot, has also been affected by the economic downturn and similarly ran into financial troubles despite efforts to save it from the creditors. Aside from the heavy financial losses, hundreds of workers will be also joining the unemployment line. Fresh Catch was a multi-million dollar enterprise engineered by an Israeli Company with state of the art technology. It was originally financed by the Inter-American Investment Corporation, the Latin American Agri-Business Development Company, the Development Finance Corporation and the Mena family. According to sources in the business community, there are many other companies that are similarly sinking in debt. News Five was unable to get a comment from the Mena group.

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#385286 - 08/09/10 07:47 AM Re: Mena Group of Companies go into receivership [Re: Short]  
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The Reporter Editorial
Friday, 06.08.2010
By Harry Lawrence - Publisher
When the directors of First Caribbean Bank in Belize applied to the Supreme Court for powers of receivership and the court appointed Price Waterhouse, an accounting firm in Barbados, to be the Receiver of Mena’s First Catch Belize tilapia farm near the Village of Democracia, they perhaps did not realize that with receivership goes the responsibility for the cultivated fish on the farm.

As nearly as we have been able to tell, there are more than three million tilapia fish in various stages of growth in more than 50 active production ponds.
These fish and fingerlings have not been fed in more than ten days. This lack of care is setting the stage for an ecological disaster which will also have grave financial consequences.

We have been doing some Internet research on tilapia farming and we learn that this is a complicated business. Fingerlings are transported through stages from pond to pond, and adolescents are not allowed to mingle with the adults. When the adult fish are mature, they are harvested and the adolescents are encouraged, through timely feedings, to grow to maturity.

But without regular feeding sessions and constant oxygenation of the pools, there will be no growth. In fact there is a good likelihood that the fish will die on a massive scale.

We don’t believe that First Caribbean Bank wants this to happen! It would leave an indelible stain on its character as a responsible corporate citizen, and it would be a callous shirking of responsibility by the Receiver, Price Waterhouse of Barbados, if it allowed millions of trapped fish and fingerlings to die off for want of food or oxygen.

We do not know the circumstances of Fresh Catch’s default with the bank, but that is not what concerns us here. When a company goes into receivership, it has a right to expect that the Receiver, whoever he is, will take good care of its business. Belizeans also have a right to expect that banks will not play Robber Baron, but will be conscientious in husbanding the resources of the received company, leading hopefully to recovery and profitability.

It appears to us that Fresh Catch’s problems are a temporary setback. The company can recover and its long-term prospects appear to be better than good. The industry is an important one for Belize and its growth potential as a foreign exchange earner should not be under-estimated.

We trust that First Caribbean will take these views into consideration and not simply write off Fresh Catch Belize for its real estate and plant value. The fish are the key to the success of the fish farm, and these fish deserve to live!

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#385344 - 08/10/10 04:16 AM Re: Mena Group of Companies go into receivership [Re: Short]  
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Four and a half million Fresh Catch might starve to death

There is an update to the story of Fresh Catch, the company that was placed in receivership by FirstCaribbean Bank. There is grave concern tonight by employees of the tilapia farm over what appears to be an imminent environmental disaster that threatens to wipe out a substantial amount of tilapia fish at the company’s farm in La Democracia. Since going into receivership on July twenty-first employees have complained that the company’s new owners, stationed in Barbados, have not purchased the necessary feed for the estimated four and a half million fish being raised on the site. According to one source, the company has placed an order for feed from a producer in Guatemala but the kind being bought can only be eaten by the half million adult tilapia. That leaves the remaining four million adolescent and fingerling fish without the appropriate fodder needed for growth. The fear is that if starvation or an ammonia buildup from uneaten feed leads to a fish kill the impact would be catastrophic. It is not known much longer the fish can survive without being fed. The proximity of the farm to the nearby river may also cause severe contamination in the event of a spillover. Fresh Catch Belize Ltd. is one of two companies belonging to the Mena Group which was recently placed under receivership. We will have more on this story in tomorrow’s newscast.

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#385524 - 08/13/10 03:05 AM Re: Mena Group of Companies go into receivership [Re: Short]  
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Barbadian receivers of Fresh Catch don’t have work permits

[Linked Image] It’s been three weeks since FirstCaribbean Bank placed the companies owned by the Mena Group, Fresh Catch and Wood Depot in receivership. Aside from a possible fish kill that could end up as a huge environmental hazard, there are immigration and labour issues that are causing embarrassment to the bankers. News Five has obtained copies of letters sent by the Immigration and Labour Departments to FirstCaribbean Bank which exposed that both and Duane Branch, the representative for Christopher Sambrano, and Craig Waterman, the receivers, do not have proper working documents. The Labour Commissioner, Ivan Williams also raises concerns raised by employees over benefits should they be terminated while the companies are under the management and control of the receivers. In another letter, the Director of Immigration tells the Bank that there is no record of employment permits to the receivers and as such their retention is a strict liability offence under the Immigration Act. Despite the warnings and directive to cease employment until permits are procured, when last we checked, both Barbadian nationals were still at work at Fresh Catch. They have been living and working in Belmopan since the companies were taken over by the Bank.

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#385525 - 08/13/10 03:09 AM Re: Mena Group of Companies go into receivership [Re: Short]  
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Fresh Catch now a shell of its former self

[Linked Image] News Five’s Isani Cayetano headed to La Democracia to find out more about Fresh Catch Belize Ltd. He found out that once a powerhouse in the fish farming industry, the company is today only a shell of its former self. The estimated seven hundred acre spread, two hundred and twenty-five of which is currently being used for production, is now a virtual ghost town as employment on this vast estate has seen a steep nosedive over the last four months. Here is Cayetano’s report.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Fresh Catch was owned and operated by the Mena Group before it was placed on receivership. The company began experiencing financial difficulties a few years ago when its principals realized that the business was facing dire straits. The pitfall came on the heels of two consecutively successful years when the production and processing of tilapia for export was at its peak. In 2008 the company produced approximately four point two million pounds of fish for shipment to Mexico, Guatemala and the United States and while its now defunct owners chose not to divulge figures the two year period has been regarded as Fresh Catch’s best financial years.

[Linked Image] Despite an increase in profits during this period the company is said to have been delinquent in financing an investment loan from First Caribbean Bank some say was in the range of twenty-seven million Belize dollars. Its inability to repay the mortgage compounded by failure to met production demand for tilapia on the foreign market forced the Mena Group to take stringent measures in raising the necessary monies by minimizing its overhead expenses. In late April the company underwent a massive downsizing from a staff of sixty to a mere twenty-five employees on a daily basis.

The dip in workforce however did not affect energy and food consumption on the plant. On average Fresh Catch utilizes forty thousand dollars in electricity used to power several aerators located across its ninety functional fish ponds. The average content per pond, depending on the size of fish being raised, varies from two hundred thousand fingerlings to forty thousand adolescent and twenty-five thousand adult fish per pond. It is an operation that is based heavily on numbers and while they may seem large it is proof that Fresh Catch was producing at a larger scale.

[Linked Image] Five years ago the company had to expand its growing business by introducing an additional fifty-four ponds to its production line. That expansion naturally required an increase in human resources and feed for its four point five million fish. Today the company has been placed under receivership by First Caribbean Bank. Apart from its shrunken staff which is in danger of being terminated the entire fish population is also in jeopardy. Since taking over operations on July twenty-first the company’s new owners have not purchased the necessary feed for the tilapias. It has been a little over three weeks and the remaining employees fear that there might be a fish kill resulting from starvation. The receivers, we were told, have ordered a shipment of twenty-eight percent crude protein, nourishment that can be eaten by the overall population but considered detrimental to the growth of fingerlings.

But while the fate of Fresh Catch Belize and its myriad tilapia hangs in the balance. Until then what’s left of Fresh Catch is a collection of shallow fish ponds that flow from one into another eventually emptying into two large reservoirs; a marvel of Israeli engineering and an empty plant with a stack of empty fish crates.

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#386001 - 08/20/10 08:34 AM Re: Mena Group of Companies go into receivership [Re: Short]  
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[Linked Image] Earlier this week, The Belize Times was informed that the situation at Fresh Catch, the largest tilapia farm in Belize had worsened dramatically. Fresh Catch is located in La Democracia and is owned by the Mena family and was put into receivership by First Caribbean Bank in the middle of last month.

Efforts by this newspaper to interview the receiver a Craig Waterman from Barbados were unsuccessful. We have however learned that he left the country and returned to Barbados to celebrate Kadooment and Independence Day in Barbados. We were only able to confirm this by visiting his Facebook page where there were enough pictures to confirm that he was indeed in Barbados having a jolly good time.

The Belize Times has been able to confirm that a series of crises occurred at the Farm whilst Waterman was in Barbados. We understand that the farm suffered a blackout and the standby generator did not work because there was no fuel. The gas station that had regularly supplied the farm with diesel had cut credit because the receivers refused to pay the outstanding bill. The failure of the generator meant that the water was stagnant for more than six hours. We are told that this has seriously affected the nearly 5 million fish that are in the ponds.

Members of the Mena family refused to comment when we contacted them and directed us to Eamon Courtenay. When we contacted Courtenay he said “the family is considering its options. The receivers have been grossly negligent and there is a consequence for negligence. People who party in Barbados while fish are suffering will have to answer for their actions one day.”

We have confirmed that the receivers have only just ordered feed for the fish. Feed is bought in Guatemala and it will take about one week before it is available to be used to feed the fish. The Department of Environment has met with the receivers and warned them of the major environmental consequences that they are facing. In fact, since the meeting with the environment the situation has deteriorated. The main pump on the farm broke down earlier this week and the expert mechanic who is retained to service the pump has refused to fix it citing the receivers refusal to pay him in advance. The Belize Times has been reliably informed that as a result of this standoff water from the ponds is now overflowing into the Sibun River. Our checks at the Department of the Environment revealed that they had yet to visit the farm to inspect this serious state of affairs. We were unable to find out whether the water was toxic or what effect it would have on the residents of La Democracia who are downstream from the Farm.

We tried to reach Glen Smith the local manager of First Caribbean but we were told that he was unavailable.

This situation is alarming. It appears that none of the receivers have ever managed a fish farm. They are not from Belize and are not familiar with the local business community or practices. This has caused them to make a number of missteps. Speaking with an attorney who is not representing any of the parties involved, she said that the liability of the bank and the receivers in a case such as this could run into the millions if negligence is proved against them. She declined to express an opinion on the potential case as she said that she did not know all the facts. However, when we described the environmental problems she said “That’s a problem. There are serious criminal offences and penalties.”

Last week a local television station reported that the receivers were working without proper papers and had been stopped by the Immigration Department. A source at Immigration informed that the receivers had applied for the proper papers and that their applications are being processed. We asked how could they be processed if they and already broke the law, the officer replied “lets wait and see what happens.”

When and where this will all end we don’t know. But it seems that First Caribbean Bank and its receivers are facing serious trouble. It seems that this one will likely be resolved in the Courts.

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