Ocean Beauty, Icicle become OBI Seafoods

Ocean Beauty Seafoods and Icicle Seafoods have merged their wild salmon and Gulf of Alaska groundfish operations to become OBI Seafoods LLC.

The agreement, which was set to close on June 1, gives the new company better leverage in a challenging global marketplace, by developing flexible business models and forming innovative partnerships, said Mark Palmer, president and chief executive officer of Ocean Beauty Seafoods, who will serve as chief executive officer of the OBI.

“Increased sales will bring additional investment to support growth and jobs,” Palmer said.

John Woodruff, chief operating officer for Icicle Seafoods, will serve as executive vice president of Alaska operations for the new company.

Nothing much is expected to change this summer for harvesters set to deliver to Ocean Beauty and Icicle, as they both had plans in place for individual operations for the summer of 2020, Palmer said.

“We have worked together on joint tendering in the past,” Palmer said. “Those were always cooperative agreements. The tender contracts, etcetera, were already in place. They will not see much of anything different,” he said. The one big difference will be that Icicle’s seafood processing vessel, the P/V Gordon Jensen, along with the moored craft Northern Victor in Dutch Harbor, are not part of the merger. Those plans will continue to operate in the Bering sea, Aleutian Islands and western Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries under Icicle Seafoods, a subsidiary of Cooke.

For that reason, OBI will be reopening its Naknek Cannery, with capacity similar to that of the Gorden Jensen, to process two-to-four-pound salmon for cans, Palmer said. The four-to-six-pound fish is better suited for fillets for domestic and export markets.

The market impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic has included people going to grocery stores less frequently, which does not bode well for sales of fresh seafood, but shoppers will stock up on canned and frozen fish, Palmer said. “I think for the next couple of years the canned market is going to be fantastic,” he said.

While sales of canned, smoked and frozen seafood are booming, food service demand for fresh seafood is very diminished with so many restaurants, universities and other education facilities closed because of the pandemic.

Initial plans for OBI include modernizing processing facilities and combining marketing and value-added product expertise. These changes are designed to raise the value of Alaska seafood in a way that benefits the company’s customers, employees and harvester partners.

The merger deal includes all five Icicle shoreside plants and all five Ocean Beauty shoreside plants in Alaska. Ocean Beauty seafoods’ smoked salmon and distribution operations will remain under its current ownership, operating as OBS Smoked & Distribution, LLC.

Ocean Beauty, founded in 1910, is owned by the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., with offices in Dillingham and Anchorage, and a group of individual owners experienced in the seafood industry. An Alaska corporation, Ocean Beauty has seven distribution facilities in the western U.S. and sales offices in Seattle and Tokyo.

Icicle has been owned by the Cooke Family of companies since 2016. With the merger, Ocean Beauty and Icicle will each own 50 percent of OBI.