Looks like we're about to see more processor consolidation at Bristol Bay, home of the state's most valuable sockeye salmon fishery.
Snopac Products Inc. today sent the following email to its fishermen announcing the company's pending sale to Icicle Seafoods Inc.
From: Jenna Hall Date: Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 1:03 PM Subject: Snopac Update
Dear Snopac Fishers,
It has been a busy winter for us here at Snopac and we are writing to bring you up to speed on some significant developments to our 2012 plans and fishing operations.
Tomorrow, a press release is going to be issued by Icicle Seafoods regarding their intention to buy Snopac (we have attached a copy to this email for you to read prior to its release). We have signed a Letter of Intent with Icicle, and are now in the midst of a customary "due diligence" process that will take several weeks. Hopefully the sale will close as both parties intend, however until that happens, it is not final.
Should the sale finalize, we will do everything we can to ensure a smooth transition for our fishers and tenders. There will be many operational details to be sorted out and both Icicle and Snopac intend to do so with the most positive impact for our fleet.
Should the sale not finalize prior to the season, we have made arrangements with Icicle to jointly operate in Bristol Bay in 2012 by consolidating resources and expanding services, which will benefit both our operation and our fleet. Icicle is a very competitive market who boasts short tender lines, great offload capacity and high limits. Working with them will give our fleet access to these benefits.
Either way, you can be assured that you have a competitive market in 2012. In addition, Snopac will be announcing a 2011 retro shortly and we will also be coming out with pre-season logistics as far as northbound freight and other timely issues.
Ben and I will be making telephone calls to each of you to personally address any questions or concerns, but feel free to call Greg, Jenna or Ben at anytime.
Thank you for your fish and your continued support.
ANCHORAGE — The Coast Guard rescued three fishermen from the northwest side of Umnak Island, one island west of Unalaska Island, after their 58-foot fishing vessel went aground there at 11:46 p.m. Sunday.
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew forward deployed to St. Paul Island rescued the three crewmembers at 3:19 a.m. and safely delivered them to Unalaska with no reported medical issues or injuries.
Coast Guard communications station Kodiak received a radio call for help from the crew of the Seattle-based fishing vessel Neptune 1 at 11:21 p.m. stating that their fishing vessel was disabled and drifting toward the island.
After receiving the distress call, Coast Guard watchstanders immediately directed the launch of the helicopter and an HC-130 Hercules airplane from Kodiak. The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley also was diverted from their patrol near Dutch Harbor.
The fishing vessel Alaskan Enterprise, 25 miles away from the Neptune 1, also responded to assist the rescue effort and helped by relaying essential information from the Neptune 1 crew to the rescuers. The Alaskan Enterprise also used its floodlights to help guide the rescue helicopter to the stranded fishermen.
The Neptune 1 crew reported that an engine failure had caused them to drift ashore. The crew donned their survival suits and swam to shore since they did not feel safe aboard the grounded fishing vessel. They also activated their emergency position indicating radio beacon to help rescue crews quickly locate them.
"The crew of the Neptune 1 took all the right steps to ensure their successful rescue, including the activation of their emergency beacon," said Raymond Dwyer, District 17 Command duty officer. "The communications and lighting assistance of the Alaskan Enterprise was also instrumental in the positive outcome of this case."
The vessel is reported as high and dry on the beach resting on its right side. An unknown amount of fuel is on board and Coast Guard response crews will be working with the vessel owner to help minimize any potential environmental impact from the grounding. No pollution has been reported at this time.
Weather was reported as snowing with winds of 25-40 mph and seas of 12-15 feet.
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, recently sent two letters to the Obama administration objecting to possible changes that could shut off a major source of workers for the state's seafood processing industry.
At issue is the Summer Work Travel Program, which allows foreign college students to come to the United States on a J-1 visa to work and travel during their summer vacation. The U.S. Department of State oversees the program.
Begich worries the State Department, now considering possible reforms to address worker exploitation complaints and other issues, is about to exclude manufacturing and packing facilities from the program, including fish processors.
That would deny Alaska processors thousands of workers, right on the brink of the summer salmon season, Begich says.
One of his letters is to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who might have a sympathetic ear on this issue. After graduating from college, she worked the slime line in a Valdez cannery.
The state Board of Fisheries begins a 10-day meeting tomorrow in Ketchikan to consider dozens of Southeast Alaska finfish proposals.
Proposals 233 and 234 are especially noteworthy. These would create equal harvest shares for Sitka Sound sac roe herring seiners.
The board has rejected the idea twice before, in 2006 and 2009.
Supporters, however, argue the imperative for equal shares has never been greater.
Converting the fishery from a cutthroat competition to an equal split among the 48 seiners would tame the harvest, improve safety and boost the quality of the catch, they say.
"Everyone in the fishery should realize safety in the fishery has deteriorated to a despicable level and something needs to be done," says Proposal 233, offered by Bill Menish.
The name Menish might sound familiar. During last year's fishery, his boat sustained $40,000 in damage in a collision with another vessel. Daniel Crome, who was running the second boat, is being prosecuted on a charge of reckless operation.
Menish's proposal says the roughhouse tactics at Sitka have become increasingly premeditated, with more seiners joining "combines" in which some members use their boats or nets to block competitors as other members fish.
One argument against equal shares is that the top seiners, the "highliners," would be denied the chance to compete for a lucrative, blockbuster catch. Instead, they would net the same share of the harvest as everyone else.
But Menish notes that combine seiners already are engaging in catch sharing.
And the sponsor of Proposal 234, the Sitka Herring Group, cites state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission data to argue that the notion of consistent highliners at Sitka is "a myth."
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is "neutral" on the two proposals.
John Woodruff, vice president of operations for Icicle Seafoods Inc., was another speaker Friday at the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference meeting. And he had plenty to say.
Seattle-based Icicle is one of the largest seafood processors operating in Alaska. In fact, Woodruff ranks his company third among shoreside operators behind Trident and Maruha Nichiro.
"I'm a fish buyer," Woodruff began his talk. He oversees production at Icicle's Petersburg, Seward, Larsen Bay and Egegik plants, and spends a good part of his days talking directly with commercial fishermen.
Icicle also has floating processors, including the Northern Victor, a pollock processing ship based near Dutch Harbor.
Here's a sampler of Woodruff's remarks Friday:
• The outlook for wild Alaska salmon is rosy. Demand for two species in particular, pink and chum salmon, has surged remarkably.
Six or eight years ago, pinks paid fishermen only a nickel a pound, Woodruff said. Last year, Icicle paid 45 cents.
"There's a huge interest in wild-capture fish," he said, summing up the general market.
• Woodruff doesn't see quite the same upside for sockeye, historically the main money fish in Alaska's salmon crop.
"I personally don't think sockeye prices are gonna do what pinks and chums have done," he said.
He noted sockeye fillets marked at $9 a pound in Safeway stores.
"That's pretty pricey," Woodruff said.
Bristol Bay is the state's major sockeye fishery. Can fishermen there expect higher prices this summer?
"If I was a Bristol Bay fisherman, I'd plan for prices like what we've seen the past couple of years and hope for better," Woodruff said.
Last year's price was around $1 per pound, not counting bonuses.
• Speaking of Bristol Bay, Woodruff discussed the fishery's drive toward chilling more of the catch for better quality.
He said "well in excess" of half the fish Icicle buys at Bristol Bay is chilled, either with ice or refrigerated seawater systems aboard boats.
Bristol Bay packers, who once just canned the sockeye or froze them whole, now fillet about 15 percent of the catch, mainly for the domestic market, Woodruff said.
• Icicle's newest processing plant is at remote Adak, a former military base far out the Aleutian chain.
The plant is taking crab deliveries now, and contributing significant taxes to the fledging city of Adak, Woodruff said.
• In 2007, a private equity firm bought out Icicle.
"I gotta tell ya, I feel good about 'em," Woodruff said. "They allow us to do our job."
The goal of the firm, Paine & Partners, is to build up Icicle and then sell the company, he said.
The Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association is planning major expansions of its False Pass and Atka processing plants.
Larry Cotter, chief executive of Juneau-based APICDA, offered details of the expansions in a talk Friday at the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference annual meeting in Anchorage.
APICDA is one of Alaska's six community development quota companies. Under the CDQ program, these companies hold lucrative Bering Sea fishing rights, proceeds from which are used to benefit Western Alaska villages.
Recently, the APICDA board decided on a new strategy for the small False Pass and Atka plants, Cotter said.
In the past, APICDA worried that growing larger operations might attract big processors, who could bring crushing competition, he said.
But what APICDA has learned is staying small doesn't work, and doesn't do enough for the local economies, Cotter said.
At False Pass, a tiny village near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, the plan is to spend $11 million over the next three years — including $8 million this year — to greatly expand Bering Pacific Seafoods, Cotter said. Construction of worker housing also is planned.
At Atka, in the Aleutian chain more than 300 miles west of Dutch Harbor, the plan is to spend $10 million in 2013-14 to expand Atka Pride Seafoods.
The goal is to turn both plants, now open only seasonally, into diversified, year-round seafood processors, Cotter said.
It doesn't look good for the fishing vessel Kimberly, hard aground in Jute Bay on the west side of Shelikof Strait. The 58-foot steel vessel was forced aground in a storm on Jan. 24. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter safely rescued all four aboard, but the boat has sustained heavy damage including holes in the hull. The plan now is to delay salvage operations until May when weather improves, the state Department of Environmental Conservation says. The boat's owner is listed in state records as Aloys Kopun of Chignik. Photo by Jack McFarland, Alaska Marine Surveyors Inc.
We have a flurry of new filings in the Steller sea lion case.
As you'll recall, federal Judge Timothy Burgess last month upheld commercial fishing restrictions the National Marine Fisheries Service imposed to protect endangered Steller sea lions in the Aleutians.
However, the judge found that NMFS violated environmental law in taking the action.
He invited parties on all sides of the case to file further input on how to proceed.
The state of Alaska and industry groups want Burgess to lift the fishing restrictions while NMFS prepares an extensive environmental study. Read their filing here.
NMFS says the restrictions should stay in place while it does the study, which could take two years.
Well, sounds like we can look forward to another big ruling from Judge Burgess.