Two commercial fisheries veterans are renovating a former helicopter logging barge in Sitka,Alaska, with plans to use it as a floating processor in Bristol Bay in 2018.
“We’re looking to start in the Ugashik [River],” said Pat Glaab, who is partnering with Ben Blakey in Northline Seafoods, to offer harvesters not equipped with cooling systems on their fishing vessels a method of delivering consistently high quality fish.
“The Bay is still struggling with getting refrigeration to fish,” said Glaab. “Our model is the fish is never better than when they come out of the water. We will park the barge where you would normally park a tender. We will give them slush ice, and all the fish they catch will go into the slush ice.”
Once the catch is delivered back to the barge, it will be flash frozen immediately.
By providing ice to their fishermen, Northline also hopes to substantially increase the incomes of those delivering to them.
“We’re talking about 50 percent more for the same fish because they will have access to cooling,” Blakey said. “Our process makes that available to everybody who fishes for us.”
Glaab and Blakey said they are confident that the barge, once renovation is completed, will have the capacity to freeze up to 300,000 pounds, or some 50,000 salmon, every day.
“Last summer we frozen 10,000 to15,000 pounds a day of pink, chum and sockeye salmon from Southeast Alaska,” Blakey said. “When our fish were compared with other product on the market, ours was consistently higher quality than other headed and gutted coming out of Alaska at the time.
This summer in Sitka, Northline anticipates freezing a smaller volume of pink and chum salmon, as renovation of the barge continues. “We are producing a product and proving you can preserve the quality of the roe and the fish,” Glaab said.
Flash freezing will also maintain the quality of the head, guts and fish oil, all with potential marketability in products including fishmeal and pet foods.
“This can’t be anything but helpful,” said Norm Van Vactor, president and chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. at Dillingham, Alaska, who is also a seafood industry veteran.
“In rural locations the cost of production is significantly higher than doing it in other places,” he said. “Freezing fish appropriately in the round means you can process the fish in a preliminary stage with minimum cost.”
It’s not for everyone, but it will certainly be a viable solution and a positive forward step for certain areas, areas that might not be able to justify a large shore based processing facility and the cost of tendering with it.