Mortillaro Lobster Inc.

A family legacy of maritime business
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
James Logan

Mortillaro Lobster Inc. (MLI) is the culmination of two generations of maritime business. When Vince Mortillaro’s father and uncle immigrated to the United States from Italy, the brothers decided to put their carpentry skills to work. With some financial help from a friend, they leased a parcel at the Captain Joe’s Wharf in Gloucester, Mass. Over the course of about a year, the brothers worked diligently crafting a wooden sailboat. Just before applying the finishing touches, tragedy struck. A welder on the roof dropped a piece of hot metal that crashed into the building and set the operation ablaze.

Being dedicated craftsmen, the brothers refused to give up. Not long after, the brothers moved onto a parcel on Commercial Street, not far away. The Mortillaro family continued to build a business, branching into other maritime components. Soon, the family was supplying local fishermen with equipment and accessories for fishing trawlers. As the years went by, the industry changed. Fishermen moved away from wooden boats and components, upgrading to steel, fiberglass and plastics.

Vince’s father, Michael, adapted to the changing market demand by developing the original wooden container commonly known as a tuna coffin and pioneered international shipping of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna to Japan. Still, the Mortillaro brothers remained up to the challenge of growing a business and decided to start selling fish.

Opening the doors to new markets

Vince became involved at a young age. “As a kid, I used to get paid 30 cents per pound to pick up periwinkles on the back shore,” he recalls. “My father and uncle pioneered a lot of things. Our business was the first to send monkfish liver to Japan. They developed the market for skate wings and urchins. We started shipping East Coast seafood all over the country and overseas.”

The business has evolved over several decades. Vince took over the business at 17-years-old. “I told my father he didn’t know how to make any money,” he elaborates. “He threw the bill book at me and asked, ‘You think you can do a better job?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ I told him we had to get on the docks to buy direct from the fishermen. When I got back from my honeymoon in 1986, he had rented a stall at Cape Ann Seafood right on the water.”

Throughout Vince’s years with MLI, his family has traded all kinds of seafood, from periwinkles to tuna. Now, the company specializes in lobster. “We sell all over the world,” he explains. “We sell whole, live lobsters and fresh lobster meat containing whole tail, knuckle and claws. We put out a great product; for the most part we sell wholesale. We have many domestic buyers and we ship internationally to buyers in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Japan, Korea, Dubai and all over Europe.”

Staying afloat

While the recent recession has impacted businesses across the United States, the fishing industry faces an entirely unique set of challenges. Therefore, Vince and his team face an entirely unique set of challenges. Changing fishing regulations through federal agencies have made it tougher for fishermen to fill the docks with catch. While the MLI team respects and understands the need for regulations and protection of resources, Vince and his crew are hoping for more equitable solutions to sustaining populations in the coming years.

Meanwhile, the business remains focused on providing high quality products and managing inventory. Vince purchased the property located on Commercial Street in Gloucester, Mass., three years ago and is planning on building an additional facility to keep up with demand. The new buildings house MLI’s unique lobster tanks and equipment, including all natural bio beds that use absolutely no chemicals.

“We actually grow our own bacteria to keep the water clean,” Vince explains. “Believe it or not, the lobsters poop and the bacteria from the waste eats all of the ammonia in the water. Lots of people use different methods to manage their stock, but ours is all-natural.”

Keeping it in the family

Vince and his younger brother, Gino, have been building up the business for more than 28 years. Gino has two sons who are involved in the family business. Vince’s ex-wife is also involved. She has been keeping the books for the company since Vince took over and still works managing the company’s finances.

The family aspect of the business is important to Vince, and he extends that attitude to all employees. He is proud to have some incredibly hard workers on his team and does all he can to compensate accordingly. MLI has a competitive employment package. No one on staff is paid minimum wage, including a part-timer who is a senior in high school. Employees can take relief in the form of paid vacation time. MLI is a great place to work, built on a foundation of integrity and hard work. For the foreseeable future, Vince and his team plan to keep moving toward growth as Mortillaro Lobster Inc. carefully navigates the changing industry and markets.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Victoria Co-Op Fisheries Ltd.