Mark Edward Nero
The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands region is the “sweet spot” of the US North Pacific fishing industry. Not only does it support some of the largest and most valuable commercial fisheries in the United States, but a number of international companies also maintain a presence in the region due to its large and diverse number of fish species.
Major fish processing operations are located in Dutch Harbor, Saint Paul, and Akutan, where such species as crab, walleye pollock, scallops, cod, flatfish, sablefish, Pacific salmon, and Pacific herring are found.
Additionally, finfish and shellfish stocks in the area provide year-round commercial fishing opportunity for all sizes of vessels and sustain important subsistence harvests for local residents.
Sitka, Alaska-based Samson Tug & Barge provides bi-weekly barge service to Central and Western Alaska from Seattle. Barges depart Seattle every-other Thursday. Regularly scheduled stops include Cordova, Valdez, Seward, Kodiak, King Cove and Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. Samson will also visit other ports of call and normally calls on Adak, Larsen Bay and Alitak during peak fishing seasons.
The company offers 40-foot standard and hi-cube refrigerated containers to transport frozen or hearty chill shipments directly from suppliers to all of Samson’s Alaska destinations. The refrigerated containers support the company’s Alaska seafood processing customers, and shipments of Alaskan salmon, crab, halibut, pollock and cod are shipped from all of Samson’s Alaskan ports to the company’s Seattle terminal.
Seattle-based Coastal Transportation serves the communities of Western Alaska and the Aleutian Islands with a fleet of five vessels with scheduled year-round sailings between Seattle and ports throughout Western Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Its cargo vessels average 260 feet in length, with hold capacities averaging 100,000 cubic feet. All vessels are self-sustaining and their cargo is 100-percent palletized.
The company’s Seattle and Dutch Harbor terminals are each capable of handling vessels up to 400 feet in length and 20 feet in draft, and
the company says their Dutch Harbor terminal is among the most efficient in the region.
Among the companies based in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest that have a presence in the industry are UniSea Inc., a Dutch Harbor-based seafood processor and shipper; Icicle Seafoods, a company with processing operations throughout Alaska; and Unalaska-based Alyeska Seafoods.
UniSea, which was founded in 1974 as Universal Seafoods Ltd. and is now a subsidiary of Japanese fishing and food processing company Nissui, offers custom processing as well as cold storage services.
Its processing offerings include grading and sorting; specialty equipment for retail packaging and sauce application; standard and specialty vacuum packing with multiple package configurations; portion-controlled fillets and steaks; and repacking and/or relabeling.
The company’s full-service cold storage facility offers real-time data collection; a temperature-controlled dock area; equipment to handle slip sheet products; rack and bulk storage; a computer-controlled refrigeration system; blast freezing; and lockers for small or individual product storage.
Among the seafood it offers are Alaska pollock, surimi, pollock roe, pacific cod, Alaskan crab, fish oil, and fish meal and bone meal, which are used to produce aquaculture feed, animal feed and fertilizer.
Icicle Seafoods, which is headquartered in Seattle, has shore plant operations in six locations: Petersburg in southeast Alaska, where Icicle was founded; Seward, which is near Anchorage and enables the company to ship fresh seafood by air and road; Egegik in the heart of Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye run; Larsen Bay, on Kodiak Island; and Wood River, located just outside Dillingham, a remote city at the mouth of the Wood River.
Icicle also has a processing vessel, the Gordon Jensen, which enables the company to move its processing activities to remote locations to match fishing seasons including pollock, cod, salmon and herring.
Alyeska Seafoods, which operates one of the larger seafood processing plants in Dutch Harbor, is jointly owned by Wards Cove Packing Co. and the largest seafood company in the world, Japan-based Maruha-Nichiro Group.
Alyeska processes Alaska pollock, Pacific cod and king snow crab. At full capacity, Alyeska can process more than a million pounds of seafood a day. The company also maintains a sales office in Seattle.
Because of the wealth and diversity of seafood in the North Pacific, companies across the globe have integrated the region’s particular fisheries challenges with the practices of their own unique areas, introducing new concepts and products to the US fleet based on centuries of old-world fishing experience.
One company with a strong presence in the Bering Sea is Marel, a global supplier of standalone equipment and integrated systems to the fishing industry. The company creates equipment, systems, and software for processing whitefish and salmon, both farmed and wild, onboard and ashore.
Marel is leading the way in the area of digital transformation into the industry. “It isn’t just about innovating more technology in more places, but often times about utilizing the technology already available to procure more information that can be used to improve processes,” says Jeff Ray, marketing manager for Marel.
Marel’s product offerings for both equipment and software allow the fish industry to work in a digital processing environment much easier. The equipment and software communicate with each other thus allowing the processors a distinct advantage for the operations and production managers to make decisions based on real time calculations done by software tracking the ongoing production.
Furthermore, by utilizing software tied into the equipment throughout the entire factory, the processors can gather information from the entire production in real-time, while also developing historical data for finding trends.
As processors look into the overall investment into ‘Going Digital the information that is provided more than makes up for the investment into digital transformation by giving processors full traceability, real-time process insights, and historical data trends through the information it collects. This information helps optimize their processes and meet their demands while also securing customer trust by providing them with as much transparency as possible about their food.
Headquartered in Norway with locations in Seattle, Spain, and Romania, the company offers technology in robotization and automation and provides fish handling solutions and processing equipment adapted for vessels, land-based factories and the fish farming industry.
As a systems integrator, Optimar is not tied to any specific supplier of sub systems, but provides expertise and tailored solutions to the specific needs from each customer. The company also develops its own equipment that can be installed on its own or included in a specialized package.
Some of Optimar’s own developed equipment and systems include: Species sorting using vision systems and control, electric stunning for humane treatment and optimum product quality and new bleeding equipment using robotics for efficient cutting and space saving bleed and chill lines.
Vision systems are used for grading and robotics are used for fresh fish handling and packing. New automated plate freezers include high pressure horizontal freezers for both onshore and offshore use, while automated offloading of vertical freezers eliminates many heavy lifting scenarios. Optimar also offers a new space saving and efficient blast freezer that enables freezing of multiple product forms at the same time with minimal manual product handling.
A software system called the Optimar Commander collects data that ties everything together for efficient operation and simpler maintenance of the lines.