AK - Adak: This Is How Alaska Fishing Communities Die
Last year, warnings were issued of the slow economic death of Alaskan fishing communities as their access to nearby fisheries that they depend on becomes squeezed by off-shore interests, lawsuits and slow or nonexistent political and regulatory responses.
The first casualty came sooner than expected. In this case, a lawsuit by several offshore corporate fishing interests has stripped the western Aleutian communities of Adak and Atka of their access to Pacific cod in federal waters and doomed the only seafood processing plant in Adak. Golden Harvest Alaska Seafoods had invested millions of dollars in new equipment, product and market development based on a 5000 mt (11 million pound) Pacific cod federal waters set-aside developed over a nearly 10-year period by the North Pacific Council; the loss of that fishery led to the inevitable failure of the plant and the collapse of the Adak economy, as predicted by industry stakeholders throughout 2019 and early 2020.
This past June, Adak’s city manager, Layton Lockett, announced that the Golden Harvest Alaska Seafoods operation had stopped buying fish and their crews had been sent home. In addition to Pacific cod, the plant had been processing crab, halibut and sablefish, and taking advantage of Adak’s military-built airport to fly live and fresh fish and custom processed seafood to U.S. west coast markets. Some of those markets will now be supplied with foreign-produced seafood.
The Adak plant was the only major business on the island. During the high season, Golden Harvest employed 300 people; and 80 employees year-round, which stabilized the local economy and school. In addition to the local fishery taxes which it contributed to State and municipal coffers, the plant supported a number of small businesses, shipped 450 ocean freight containers of seafood per year, and helped sustain Alaska Airlines’ operations to and from the remote island — filling air freighters and passenger planes with fresh and frozen seafood. The plant was also in the process of developing new fisheries: sea urchins, geoducks, kelp and salmon; and was exploring the potential for a salmon hatchery to provide more stable year-round employment.
Ironically, Adak and the western Aleutians are located amidst some of the nation’s richest fisheries, which is what this fight was all about. Adak’s enviable location, its proximity to seafood markets in Asia and its military-built airport runway, harbor and other infrastructure provide Alaska with a globally competitive opportunity. Former Sen. Ted Stevens, a champion of Alaska’s fishing communities and one of the driving forces behind the landmark Magnuson-Stevens Act, secured a congressionally mandated pollock allocation for Adak as part of the decades long effort to develop the opportunity. Stiff opposition by offshore interests have now put those capital and political investments in peril.