Circle Seafoods and Northline Seafoods are hard at work building out floating processors they plan to debut in time for Alaska’s salmon runs in 2024.
Northline Seafoods is building the Hannah in Bellingham, Washington, U.S.A. to buy, process, ship, and store salmon caught in Bristol Bay on a single vertically integrated platform. The vessel, which is being constructed from an existing barge hull that was towed from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico to Washington, is now over 50 percent complete, according to Northline Seafoods CEO Ben Blakey. Blakey told SeafoodSource in December 2022 the vessel will conduct primary processing when in operation and bring its frozen harvest to Washington state for secondary processing after the season is over.
“Our plan is to keep the pace of reprocessing more controlled, completing it throughout the course of the year, aiming for 50,000 pounds a day instead of trying to fillet a million pounds a day. That way, it’s far easier to control our costs and our timing and improve our yields, so we end up with a higher percentage of usable product that's better-created and easier to meet the specs the customer has asked for,” Blakey told SeafoodSource in December 2022.
Northline suffered a setback in 2020, after its prototype SM-3 vessel broke free from its mooring and beached in Ekuk, Alaska, in Bristol Bay. While the vessel was salvaged, the accident caused USD 4.5 million (EUR 4.1 million) in damage, and with the insurance payout, Northline decided to convert its salvaged vessel into an ice barge and build a new, larger floating processor – the idea that eventually germinated into the Hannah.
Blakey said the company’s leadership remains convinced of the need for an innovative solution like the Hannah in Bristol Bay, for a number of reasons.
“There's upfront challenges of just getting such large workforces up into the bay, and the expense and challenge of producing products that are consistent and trusted by customers,” he said. “We can add value later when we have more time, but we need to streamline operations in the bay to focus on quality retention and value preservation. And that basically allows us to target the products we produce specific to our customers’ needs and when they need them.”
Northline Seafoods is planning to operate the Hannah off Clark’s Point in the Nushagak district, in tandem with the SM-3, which has a 400,000-pound capacity and will be buying fish on the east side of Bristol Bay.
“Both barges will be connected by tenders, so we will be servicing other districts with standard tenders as well,” Blakey said.
The difficult 2023 salmon season, marred by low prices and cratering markets, has not deterred Blakey – rather, it convinced him of the need for innovation.
“This season was not just hard on fishermen; it was hard on processors. We're hoping that we can kind of give an example of what can be done to improve things,” he said. “Honestly, what happened this past summer reinforces the need for change. The fishermen know that and the processors know that. And we hope to be that change.”
Pat Glaab, Northline’s former CEO, is now the CEO of Circle Seafoods, leading the company along with co-founders Charlie Campbell and Eren Shultz. Founded in 2022, Circle Seafood has the tagline “the economics of wild salmon are broken”…
Photo courtesy of Circle Seafoods