Our collective presence as seafood processors in Valdez is a direct result of the perseverance and hard work of the Valdez Fisheries Development Association and the fishing fleets of Prince William Sound. So it is only appropriate that we celebrate the 40-year anniversary of this local salmon hatchery together this summer. Collectively we represent Peter Pan Seafoods, Easy Freeze, and Silver Bay Seafoods, representing operations large and small, producing wild Alaska salmon products from commercial, sport and personal use fisheries. Our fish processing operations have grown, adapted and succeeded alongside the association during these past decades. Much has changed in those 40 years, but our working relationship with the Valdez Fisheries Development Association has grown stronger together.
Officially incorporated in 1980, the association created new opportunities for fishermen in Prince William Sound, which eventually led to fish processors moving into Valdez and strengthening the local economy. By providing enhanced stock during years of lower returns, he Valdez Fisheries Development Association has eased the boom and bust cycles that harm user groups. In this way, it has supported the commercial, personal use, sports, and subsistence fishermen who rely on sustainable, healthy harvests throughout the region.
From 1980 to 2020, the association has released more than 6.5 billion pink salmon fry and seen collective returns of more than 350 million adult salmon from the Solomon Gulch Hatchery. Likewise, more than 51 million coho smolt have been released, and more than 4 million have returned to enhance our local sport fishery. When commercial fishermen harvest the association’s returning salmon, they bring their fish to our processing facilities to be prepared for national and international markets. The association and local fishermen are quite literally part of the global economy and help us to ensure our markets through that commitment. This symbiotic relationship continues to serve all of us.
Peter Pan Seafoods, for example, has been canning, freezing, curing and packaging fresh seafood in Valdez since 1988. Over the years, this operation has grown to a crew of approximately 350, locals and non-locals investing in the community that processes wild salmon as well as halibut and blackcod. Over the years, as fisheries landings in Valdez have grown because of the association’s salmon hatchery program, our operation has grown alongside them, and we have diversified our product lines to expanded to new markets and meet global demand.
Silver Bay Seafoods moved into the neighborhood in 2010, when it acquired the Northern Reach Seafood facility in Valdez and increased the facility’s processing capacity from a quarter million to around 1 million pounds of salmon daily. Our new state-of-the-art facility was constructed in 2015 with the ability to process 2.7 million pounds of salmon each day and expand products to include ikura and salmon oil. This comes as a result of the Valdez Fisheries Development Association’s success and reliability as a partner to produce sustainable salmon runs year after year, supplementing, not replacing the returns of wild salmon stocks.
In parallel with the benefits to the commercial fishing industry from the association’s pink salmon returns, sports, personal use, and subsistence users also benefit from the prolific coho salmon enhancement program that the hatchery has invested in through time and resources. This fishery has been a mainstay in the association’s mission, and it draws in locals and tourists alike to experience the excitement of chasing a potential Silver Salmon Derby winner, while filling the freezer each summer. Custom sportfish processors like Easy Freeze, which opened its doors in the mid-1990s, cater to sports fishermen who come to Valdez, harvest hatchery salmon, and want their catch processed and shipped. the association's dedication to enhancing fisheries for all user groups created these opportunities for Alaskans to start and sustain local businesses like ours, thus growing the local economy and attracting new businesses and industries.
It is no question that the success we, as Valdez processors, have achieved is in part thanks to the Valdez Fisheries Development Association. Without the guarantee of Alaska’s strong sustainable hatchery salmon runs, amid low or high wild stock returns, our operations would not be viable, the industry would not see opportunity to expand or diversify. Without the Solomon Gulch Hatchery, Valdez would not be the community it is today. We are grateful to the hard work of the association staff and board of directors, whose innovation and dedication should be celebrated, not only this summer but every season. All Alaskans benefit from the bounty created by the association's hatchery program, and we’re proud to serve the region and the community of Valdez. Thank you for this important partnership.
Richard Franks is Valdez Plant Manager at Silver Bay Seafoods.
Colby Boulton is Valdez Plant Manager at Peter Pan Seafoods.
Michael C. Waller is President & CEO at Easy Freeze.
To learn more about Valdez Fisheries Development Association and its 40th anniversary, please visit valdezfisheries.org/40th.