UniSea, Inc, a Seattle-based seafood processing company, has been fined $1.9 million to settle state of Alaska and Federal environmental claims, according to a news release from Alaska’s United States Attorney Karen Loeffler.
UniSea’s website boasts that they are one of the largest seafood producers in the world, with primary processing facilities in Dutch Harbor.
Dutch Harbor is the official name of the city’s port in Unalaska, where UniSea operates its principal seafood processing facility on southeast Amaknak Island. That processing facility violated federal and state laws when ammonia and other waste was discharged. Court filings revealed that beginning in 2005, UniSea discharged ammonia and other pollutants from its Unalaska facility into surrounding waters without a permit and in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA), and that UniSea failed on a timely basis to notify authorities of two large releases of ammonia from its facility in December 2007, a violation of federal and state environmental reporting laws.
UniSea has agreed to pay federal and state civil penalties of $1,909,375.
Unisea will also be required to perform a benthic survey and potential clean-up of the site’s fish waste pile, and to implement a comprehensive environmental compliance plan to insure that future violations do not occur.
Phone calls to UniSea president Terry Shaff in Seattle and operations manager Don Graves in Dutch Harbor were not returned.
According to a press release issued by UniSea, a number of small releases were discovered and had been properly reported to the government. UniSea is taking all necessary steps to comply with the government, the release states.
UniSea states that there was absolutely no harm to marine wildlife, no fish or marine mammals were harmed, there was no danger at any time to the public or UniSea’s employees and no seafood products were impacted in any way.
UniSea voluntarily spent $1.6 million dollars to make further state of the art improvements to its environmental protection and refrigeration systems shortly after the discovery of the December 2007 discharges of ammonia, the release states. The improvements were made before Unisea reached an agreement with the government and were made by the company to minimize the risk of a similar incident.
An underlying complaint filed in the federal settlement states UniSea released anhydrous ammonia, elevated pH, propylene glycol, unscreened seafood processing wastewater, crab waste, stick water, fishmeal, and foam from outfalls at the Dutch Harbor facility from July 2005, to February 2008, in violation of the terms of its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued by the EPA in 2003.
UniSea is also alleged to have failed to properly notify authorities of two large ammonia releases in December 2007 of approximately 17,000 pounds, which exceeded the reportable quantity for ammonia in violation of federal law. Facilities must report releases in excess of 100 pounds according to the EPA. The releases were not reported to the appropriate federal, state, or local authorities until the middle of January 2008.
UniSea maintenance engineer director Arthur Aliment, in a previous agreement with the state, pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of failing to report the release of a hazardous substance. Aliment was responsible for reporting releases to the appropriate authorities. On Jan. 12, 2011, Aliment was sentenced to 45 days in jail with the time suspended, a $7,500 fine with $3,750 suspended, 60 hours of community service, and probation for a period of one year. Aliment is still employed at UniSea in Dutch Harbor and did not return phone calls.
UniSea human resources director Chris Plaisance released a statement that says UniSea discovered a condenser tube leak in refrigeration equipment at the Dutch Harbor facility in 2007 that accidentally resulted in the release of ammonia to Iliuliuk Harbor and, upon confirming the releases, reported them to state and federal authorities. That refrigeration equipment was rebuilt in the 1990s, had been routinely maintained and inspected and did not show wear. State environmental officers and the EPA conducted a thorough three-year review of UniSea’s environmental and safety practices with complete company cooperation, the release states.
UniSea states it has never had any prior environmental investigations in its 35 years of operation in Alaska and has received numerous regulatory awards for compliance with safety requirements. The firm annually produces more than 130 million pounds of quality seafood products and employs 1,300 people in Alaska.
Dutch Harbor is the largest port in the United States in terms of fish landings.
Unisea products include pollock, pollock roe, Pacific cod, black cod, snow crab, king crab, halibut, whitefish meal and fish oil.
• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.
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