Mobile processing barge headed to Southeast AK for 2024 season

Circle Seafoods barge in Southeast will join Northline's Hannah at Bristol Bay. The times are a' changing ...

by | January 21, 2024

Filed Under Salmon | Trade | Trends | Uncategorized

“The economics  of wild salmon are broken.” – Circle Seafoods

An alternative to the ages old way of processing Alaska salmon will arrive in Southeast Alaska this summer to buy pinks and chums directly from fishermen.

Circle Seafoods has secured $36 million to build its first mobile salmon processing barge, in what it claims will be “the first of many barges.”

The company brought together US investors and capital partners, including some with strong ties to Alaska fisheries and communities. The funding is made up of equity, debt, and New Market Tax Credits (NMTC), reported Intrafish.  

Circle is led by Pat Glaab, a fisherman and processing plant builder with 40 years in Alaska. He’s well known for being the initial designer, builder and operator of Leader Creek, Silver Bay, Northline Seafoods, and now, Circle Seafoods.

 Pat Glaab

Here is Circle’s project description:

 “Circle Seafoods will short-cut the existing system. By building a mobile processing barge—equipped with capture, grading, tracking, and flash-freezing equipment—and bringing it out onto the waters where the fishers are fishing, Circle Seafoods can pay fishers a premium for their fresh-from-the-ocean catch before then flash-freezing the whole carcass to preserve quality for storage and transport.

Once the fishing season is over, Circle Seafoods brings the flash-frozen salmon to Aberdeen, WA for further processing and to deliver their top-quality salmon to market. Given Circle’s unique approach, they can process their inventory year-round, creating jobs during the traditionally-underemployed times of year for fishing communities, as well as delivering top-quality product in the off-season.” 

“The economics of wild salmon are broken,” Circle states on its website. “Declining wild salmon prices have left fishermen feeling frustrated and short-changed. Existing conditions also make the fishery incredibly wasteful and unsustainable. Few people understand the damage low fish prices have on fishermen and communities in Alaska. We do.”

Clipping costs boosts fishermen’s prices

Glaab for years has been outspoken about how Alaska’s salmon fishery “has yet to eradicate the vestiges of the old ways which began organically when we were just stuffing everything in a can and had no other options. It’s a holdover from those systems,” he claims.

He cites three ways to improve the value per round pound of salmon: lower costs, increase volume sold into prime markets, and increase end market prices.

Circles’ website highlights 20 ways the company is changing Alaska’s wild salmon industry.

  1. Reduce tendering by 75% to lower costs per pound of production.
  2. Prove services to fishermen directly on the grounds, available 24/7, to improve experience and increase time fishing.
  3. Reduce unload times for fishermen to maximize fishing time for the fleet.
  4. Where needed, offer free slush ice to limit quality loss.
  5. Sort and grade fish at point of sale to match pay with quality for each individual fisherman.
  6. Round freeze the whole salmon to lower production costs and improve quality.

See the rest of the list HERE

The company website boldly tells fishermen “if you join our Circle you’ll never see 2023 prices again.”

“Although base prices have always fluctuated, this year seems different and points to deeper, systemic problems. Prices for wild salmon dropped by over 50% across the state and, in some cases, fish buying stopped altogether,” its website says.

Circle + Hannah

The Circle Seafoods model will be mirrored this summer by Northline Seafoods which is launching a floating processing barge called Hannah at Bristol Bay.

That project received a $40 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-backed guarantee Food Supply Chain  by President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” initiative. SeafoodSource News reported the project also got financing from Greater Commercial Lending, a subsidiary of Greater Nevada Credit Union designed to provide loans to businesses and organizations in underserved and rural communities. The Hannah also has been aided by fundraising from Seattle investment banking firm Zachary Scott.

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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