Fire at Port Moller, Alaska, processing plant ends salmon season early for local fleet

The remote Port Moller, Alaska, Peter Pan Seafoods plant caught fire on Tuesday night, Aug. 15, burned through the night and into Wednesday morning.

Several fishing boats reportedly tied off to the section of the dock that was burning and joined the plant workers in trying to put out the fire.

“We fought the fire for a couple hours… couldn’t get a handle on it,” Chris Clemens, who skippers the seiner Rough Rider and was coming in to make a delivery when he and his crew saw the plant was engulfed in flames, told the Alaska Dispatch News. “It got out of control, and everyone had to evacuate because it was dangerous. And we were worried about the roof coming down on the boats and whatnot. And that was that… now we’re out on anchor. We’re just kinda watching our livelihoods burn to the ground, it seems.”

Any fish that still needs to be unloaded will be taken to the King Cove plant about 100 miles away, but the loss of the 100-year-old facility will end the sockeye salmon season a few weeks early.

“All crew and personnel are reported safe and uninjured,” Peter Pan Seafoods reported in a statement on its website. “Damage from the fire is extensive enough to halt operations for the remainder of the 2017 season.”

Because Port Moller is unincorporated, the plant workers and Alaska Department of Fish & Game offices make up the seasonal and self-sufficient community, which is running without power, water and internet connectivity as a result of the fire. Because there’s no local government, there’s also no fire department.

“They have fire suppression systems here, and they’ve got water lines and hoses and such, and those were all used early on trying to keep the fire at bay, but it’s a 100-plus-year-old building, buildings, and lots of old timber and dry timber, and once it got going it was really hard, couldn’t stop it,” according to Fish & Game’s Bob Murphy, as reported by KTOO.

Murphy added that the plant offices, processing section and large freezer were destroyed. Still standing were housing quarters for about 150 workers, the egg processing house and part of the dock, which was cut to prevent the fire from spreading to more buildings. The cause was yet to be determined at press time, though Murphy said it began “in the production end of things, kind of the freezing warehouse.”

According to the company website, Peter Pan claimed land at Port Moller in 1917 and began building a cannery there. Before the fire, the May-September facility was capable of processing about 250,000 pounds of salmon a day, primarily sockeye, shipping out frozen headed and gutted, as frozen or salted fillets, and salted salmon eggs (sujiko).

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 13 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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