Petersburg will only have one salmon cannery operating this summer. Ocean Beauty Seafoods will not be canning fish at the company’s plant in Petersburg in 2017.
Tom Sunderland, vice president of marketing, says current market conditions favor selling frozen salmon over canned. “We’re gonna make a lot more money selling frozen salmon than canned salmon this year and the Petersburg plant is essentially a cannery,” Sunderland explained. “It doesn’t have a very large or efficient freezing operation, certainly not enough that you could run it just as a freezing operation. Our plant at Excursion Inlet on the other hand does have substantial freezing capacity and we can move that production over there and take care of that. And by doing so, the hope is we can return the highest value to the fleet by putting the product into its most lucrative product form.”
Canned salmon inventory remains on the shelves from prior years driving down the demand for that product. Meanwhile, Sunderland says markets are supporting higher prices for frozen fish and companies have increased freezing capacity in Alaska. “This is no different than what’s happening all over the state,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot of processors de-emphasizing canning and emphasizing freezing to the extent possible, just a reflection of the current world market conditions.”
About 200 cannery workers will not be in Petersburg this year and most of those jobs will be in Excursion Inlet instead. That plant is about 40 miles west of Juneau. Ocean Beauty’s office will still be open in Petersburg and the company will still be providing support for its fishing fleet and buying fish in the area. It’s not the first year for the cannery to be shuttered. The company did not can fish at its Petersburg plant in 2010 because of a weak pink salmon run and in 2012 after the state ferry Matanuska damaged that building.
The town’s largest processor, Icicle Seafoods, does plan to can salmon in Petersburg this summer. Patrick Wilson, the company’s Petersburg Fisheries plant manager said, “hopefully we will get enough to can and keep the cold storage busy.” Wilson acknowledged the industry is changing focus to more frozen product. Low pink returns last summer statewide impacted the industry and Wilson is hoping for a better return this year. State and federal scientists are forecasting a harvest of around 43-46 million pinks in Southeast in 2017. Last’s years catch in the region was around 18 million.