KETCHIKAN - A Norquest Seafoods official is floating the idea of a community cold storage in Ketchikan as a way of helping the struggling seafood industry in Alaska.
John Sund, vice president of operations at NorQuest Seafoods, spoke at the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Wednesday.
He said a large cold storage that could be used by processors and others would help cut operating costs for the facilities and create jobs in the community.
Fish are frozen at NorQuest and then shipped to Seattle, where the product is placed in cold storage until a customer makes a purchase.
"In my mind, that work can stay here in Ketchikan," Sund said. "If we can get the infrastructure base, we can keep our product here, lower our cost of shipping, maintain some product here to manufacture through the winter and create some jobs on the beach."
Sund said the cold storage plan won't solve all the problems but would be a step toward trying to compete in the global market.
That market is full of foreign farmed fish, which have driven down high prices once paid to Alaska's commercial fishermen. Alaska's statewide salmon harvest values have fallen from $600 million in 1992 to $200 million in 2001, according to NorQuest.
This year, Sund expects that number to drop even further to about $150 million. And, so far, there is no indication the market will change.
Sund said the salmon industry in Alaska is in serious trouble.
Over the past five years, about 300 seine boats have worked the Panhandle during the height of the pink salmon run. But this year, only about 230 seine boats are fishing Southeast, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
While the seine fleet appears to be shrinking, salmon returns do not. Unlike some other parts of Alaska, Southeast's resource is healthy and abundant. That leaves fishermen and processors with a plentiful product but an uncooperative market.
Sund said those involved in the industry need to come up with a plan.
"We need to get efficient and we need to consolidate our fish processing plants where it makes sense," he said.
Earlier this year, some participants involved in the seafood industry did get together to discuss how to operate more efficiently. Fishermen, processors and Fish and Game agreed to alter the seine management scheme in an attempt to keep pink salmon from sitting at the dock for one or two days, waiting to be processed.