Aleut Corp and Adak finally receive access to pollock quota

Photo/File/AP

Things have been rough for the western Aleutians town of Adak over the last decade, but the pollock season beginning Jan. 26 will finally make the town some money.

After being passed over for Community Development Quota, suffering the closure of its Naval air base, then held under the thumb of Steller sea lion restrictions that essentially closed the Aleutian Islands subarea to pollock fishing, the Aleut Corp. and Adak will be able to harvest the 17,400 metric tons, or 38.3 million pounds, of pollock quota they were allotted 10 years ago by the late Sen. Ted Stevens.

The Adak Cod Cooperative, which leases the processing plant from the Aleut Corp., is currently looking for business partners to offset the leasing costs.

 “It’s going to take one or two years to really shake out the trauma that we’ve been through,” said Clem Tillion, a lobbyist for the Aleut Corp., one of 12 Alaska Native regional corporations who own lands and finances under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The company owns the pollock quota as well as the building that houses Adak’s fish processing plant. The total pollock allocation for the western Aleutian Islands subarea is 19,000 metric tons, or mt, which has been unfished due to the Steller sea lion restrictions.

At 35 cents per pound ex-vessel price, that amounts to $14.9 million. Of the 19,000-mt allocation for the Aleutians subarea, 15,500 mt of that was reserved for the Aleut Corp., and 1,900 mt for Adak. The remainder is the incidental catch allowance for other fisheries.

“There’s a lot of building left to do in the aftermath of the sea lion fiasco, which was bull to begin with,” Tillion said.

Adak’s economic health has swung into dark times since its better days as a Bering Sea Naval base.

The U.S. Navy was the town’s income for half a century until it withdrew in 1999, leaving Adak without much revenue stream.

Similar coastal towns are issued Community Development Quota amounting to 10 percent of all Bering Sea harvests, but the program began in 1991 when Adak was still a Naval base, so the town received no quota.

Stevens pushed for the Aleut Corp. to receive a pollock allocation in 2004, stipulating that the revenue must be used for Adak’s economic development and not outsourced to outside processors or crew.

However, Steller sea lion protections put in place after 2004 made the quota practically useless and most of the 19,000 mt were reallocated to the Bering Sea each year.

Additional protections for the Steller sea lion, whose main food sources are Pacific cod, Atka mackerel, and pollock, were the justification for the National Marine Fisheries Service to close a western Aleutian Islands area half the size of Texas to any cod or mackerel fishing in 2010.

The State of Alaska and a coalition of fishing groups sued, and a federal judge found in 2012 that NMFS violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not producing an environmental impact statement, or EIS, to support the action.

The restrictions were allowed to stand as the court-ordered EIS was prepared, a process that was completed last year when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted a new suite of measures allowing more fishing in the Aleutians, including the Aleut Corp. quota.

A finding of no jeopardy or adverse modification under the Endangered Species Act for the new measures allows the Aleut Corp. to fish its pollock quota, making this the first time the it and Adak will be able to fish or lease their combined 17,400 mt of pollock.

Success hinges on getting the Adak’s processing facility operational and profitable. Icicle Seafoods sold Adak’s processing plant in mid-2013, just two years after purchasing it, citing regulatory and Pacific cod uncertainty and as reason. The company’s business made up 30 percent to 40 percent of the town’s tax revenue.

To keep from losing the plant entirely, Adak invested $2 million to buy Icicle’s equipment at auction and recently sold it to newly formed Adak Cod Cooperative LLC owned by Bristol Bay salmon processors Joe Kelso and John Lorance, owners of Ekuk Fisheries. Adak is currently hurrying to reroof the plant. 

According to Tillion, the challenge ahead is finding boats to actually get the pollock, as well as marketing effectively for fishermen to use Adak’s processing plant. Because they’d been unable to fish their pollock allocation since receiving it, Adak-based pollock fishermen are scarce. Currently, Aleut Corp. has half their quota leased to a crab fisherman who’s looking for willing pollock outfits.

“We have the right to go shopping,” said Tillion. “Who we have to harvest it, I don’t know.”

To make revenue, Tillion says plant will consider opening shop for several different sources including Pacific cod, roe, and crab, once they complete an expensive roof repair.

The plant will have to fight for market share with other Aleutian Islands processing centers like Dutch Harbor, so diversifying their capabilities and emphasizing convenient access will be key to finding steady customers.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
11/18/2016 - 1:59pm