Fish plant slated for Auke Nu Cove

Japanese caviar market has driven expansion of Alaska Glacier Seafoods

Posted: Friday, September 05, 2003

The Alaska Glacier Seafoods Co. plans to build a new plant in Auke Bay this winter because the current facility is "bursting at the seams," company president and founder Mike Erickson said.

The seven-year-old processing company has received the necessary permits for constructing a 9,000-square-foot processing plant, with an additional 3,000 square feet of office space, on its land in Auke Nu Cove, at around mile 12 Glacier Highway near the Auke Bay ferry terminal. The building will stand about 29 feet high and extend 200 feet on fill from the guardrail of the highway into the cove. Construction will begin in the next few weeks, Erickson said.

The seafood processing company submitted an additional permit application, for an 80-foot-wide by 110-foot-long wooden dock, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in August.

The popularity of the company's seasoned caviar in the Japanese market, combined with the demand for Alaska salmon in Southeast Alaska and down the West Coast, has driven the company's expansion, Erickson said.

"Right now we're in the Lemon Creek area, so all of our products have to be transferred from the docks to us," he said. "It's very expensive and very time-consuming. We're not nearly as efficient as we should be."

Though the new facility likely will process the same amount of fish as the old one, the new building will allow the company to focus on value-added products, such as salmon caviar, individual frozen salmon and halibut fillets, and possibly smoked fish.

"The more we can process that product here, the more we stand to make and the more opportunity we provide," said Erickson. The company also might expand to processing Pacific cod, and to freeze more fish for value-added processing throughout the winter.

Some residents of the Auke Bay area are not happy with the company's decision to build a plant in the harbor. Some 34 neighbors appealed to the Juneau Planning Commission to reject a permit for the facility in October 2002.

"First of all, the whole process through which it came about, we thought, was done incorrectly," said Robert Stone, who was among the unhappy homeowners. "The neighborhood harmony and whatnot wasn't taken into consideration in this whole thing."

Neighbors are concerned the plant's round-the-clock operations will disrupt the peace and quiet in the area, and that the company will expand once the initial building and dock is in place.

They also worry about further development of the cove, Stone said.

"Alaska Glacier Seafoods is talking about expanding further, and then the CBJ is going to tag along on that project to put in this commercial loading and unloading facility," he said, referring to a city-planned dock for commercial fishing boats and charter vessels in the area.

The Planning Commission rejected the residents' appeal of the plant, and the Juneau Assembly upheld the commission's decision in February.

Erickson contested some of the neighbors' claims, saying the plant will produce no offensive odors and will not extend beyond the planned fill and dock.

Fishermen and the city will benefit from the new processing facility, said Doug Mecum, director of commercial fisheries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"The benefits to the municipality are jobs and raw fish taxes, and the benefit to fishermen is to have another processor to sell to, especially locally," he said.

Juneau, like all municipalities in Alaska, receives half of the state-collected raw fish tax revenue from seafood processed in the city.

Processors have suffered from a shortage of buyers in recent years, Mecum said.

The Excursion Inlet processing plant near Icy Strait, which Ocean Beauty Seafood bought from Wards Cove in March, is operating this year. But Ocean Beauty is processing fewer fish than the plant has in previous years. Other buyers in the area include Icicle Seafoods, which sends a tender to the northern Inside Passage to collect fish to process in Petersburg, and Taku Smokeries, based in downtown Juneau.

• Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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