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Fish plants move to Lemon Creek

Posted: Sunday, March 19, 2006

Two Juneau salmon processing plants are migrating to new homes at Lemon Creek this winter.

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Northern Keta, a caviar producer, and the Alaska Seafood Co., which produces shelf-ready smoked salmon and jerky, are waiting out Juneau's recent cold spell to finish building the new plants.

Company officials said last week that they haven't been able to move dirt or pour concrete for a while, due to the below-freezing temperatures. They hope to finish construction well in advance of the 2006 salmon season.

By coincidence, it appears, the new plants ended up across the street from each other on Concrete Way, a small Lemon Creek spur road.

It wasn't on purpose, said Dick Hand, owner of Alaska Seafood. He noted that the new Breeze-In doughnut bakery and retail store is also moving into the Concrete Way neighborhood. "It's going to be tough on the Atkins diet," he joked.

Hand needed to change locations because his existing plant in Lemon Creek is too small, he explained. The Shaune Drive plant is about 5,000 square feet. The new plant will double the size.

Officials for both companies said they could not afford to lease land on Juneau's waterfront. That land, owned by the city, is too expensive, and there isn't much available for development anyway, they said.

"Out on the docks wasn't really an option," said Mark Hieronymus, a co-owner of Northern Keta, currently located in the Loken Hangar on Channel Drive. His 13-year-old company was founded by fishermen who head and gut their own fish and needed a local buyer for their roe.

Before that, the fishermen had to put their salmon eggs on a plane for processing in Seattle and "hope for the best," Hieronymus said.

The company's 5-7 seasonal employees take on fish byproducts directly from local fishermen. They harvest "millions and billions" of salmon eggs from all five species of Pacific salmon, Hieronymus said. He declined to give a direct estimate of the company's output due to competition with other caviar buyers.

Northern Keta's new 7,800-square-foot, two-story warehouse won't be much larger than its current space, but it will be more efficiently laid out, with better equipment, said Northern Keta President Elisabeth Babich.

The company mostly sells its refrigerated caviar to international and Lower 48 distributors.

Alaska Seafood sells only shelf-ready products. It is one of a few companies in the state that puts its smoked salmon in foil pouches, Hand said. The company produces about 80,000 pouches per year. It also produces canned smoked salmon, salmon jerky and pasteurized, unrefrigerated caviar.

"A big part of our market is the gift industry in Alaska, and a few customers in the Lower 48," Hand said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.

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