Silver Bay Seafoods LLC of Sitka, Alaska, has been fined $467,469 by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for violations of their Alaska Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit at the processor’s Naknek River facility in Bristol Bay.
Officials, who announced the fine on June 7, said that in addition to numerous violations identified at the Bristol Bay processing plant during a scheduled inspection in 2021, the company repeatedly discharged significantly more fish waste into the Naknek River than permitted, despite a DEC decision to deny Silver Bay’s request to exceed discharge limits.
“Not only did Silver Bay Seafoods’ knowing and recalcitrant disregard for permit terms put the local environment at risk, but it also gave them a material competitive advantage over the other seafood processors in the area who undertook the costs of compliance,” said Randy Bates, director of the DEC’s Division of Water.
DEC officials said the fine negotiated with the Division of Water, takes into consideration the severity of the violations, as well as economic benefits the company realized while avoiding the cost of complying with permit conditions. The agreement includes required structural and operational changes the company must make to better ensure future compliance, as well as stipulated financial penalties that Silver Bay will pay if the Naknek facility violates the terms of the permits in the future.
“Our permits are designed to maintain water quality and, going forward, we expect adherence to our requirements,” Bates said.
Silver Bay’s processing facility lies about five miles upstream of the mouth of the Naknek River, alongside other seafood processing facilities. The area has significant tidal flows that wash in and out of the river, as well as the current of the river itself, which disperses fish wastes discharged by processing facilities.
DEC officials said there’s a practical limit to how much waste the tidal river system can handle. Exceeding it could cause concentrations of standing fish waste to accumulate and stagnate, resulting in consequences to the local environment.
Silver Bay Seafoods’ permit allowed the processor to discharge up to 10 million pounds of fish waste annually. According to DEC, the company exceeded that limit without authorization by 2.9 million pounds in 2017 and by 5.1 million pounds in 2020. Their permit also requires catch-transfer water, wastewater sent from the vessel offloading fish to a processing plant, to be discharged through the plant’s outfall to avoid water-quality impacts.
DEC’s onsite inspectors in 2021 found that Silver Bay allowed discharge of catch-transfer water at the dock, causing a water-quality violation of blood and foam on the water surface. That was a breach of their permit and DEC’s direction not to discharge at the dock.
The inspectors also found grind-size limit exceedances, best management practice plan violations, and failure to self-report non-compliance with the permit conditions.