Pelican Seafoods has laid off employees and will be operating this season on a "downsized scale," according to Duff Mitchell, chief operating officer of Kake Tribal Corp., which owns the processor.
Mitchell wouldn't confirm the number of layoffs, but Pelican Mayor Kathie Wasserman said about 15 people were let go and only 3 ½ positions were retained. She said layoffs and decreased operations are a huge blow to the town of 115.
"It closes down our major industry. We need to keep something going here that attracts the fishing fleet that has been the mainstay of this community since its inception," Wasserman said.
Mitchell released few details, saying the layoffs were a "personnel matter" and not public. He would not comment on the size of Pelican Seafoods' fleet or whether there will be markets for those fishermen this season.
"We plan on seeing what we can do with our fishing fleet," he said. "There's a lot of changes going on with the seafood industry. We are looking at reorganizing it and I don't want to really be pontificating in the press of why we're reorganizing and how we're reorganizing. We will probably have some form of operation in Pelican. The exact specifics are under discussion."
He said the processor would continue to operate the city's fuel dock, grocery store and electric utility.
Wasserman said the bulk of the city's funding comes from the raw fish tax on seafood processed there. She said Pelican Seafoods - the town's largest landowner - is also behind on its sales tax payments and property tax payments.
"There goes a huge chunk of our budget. It becomes very difficult for us to provide services to the people that are left," she said. "It's in the city's best interests to see that Pelican Seafoods flourishes and I will do whatever I can within reason to see that they are successful."
Wasserman worries that the population of Pelican will dwindle even more than it has if those who were laid off seek jobs elsewhere.
Mitchell said the layoffs might be temporary. One laid-off employee contacted by the Empire declined to comment, worried that he would not be hired back if the company does start hiring again.
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.