Kodiak Daily Mirror: OBI pulls Alitak set net support

Setnetters were stunned at the short, curt notice of "unfortunate turn of events" by OBI.

by | March 13, 2024

Plant has been operating for over 100 years; pulling all services for over 40 setnetters

OBI plant at Alitak on Kodiak Island

by Steve Williams/Kodiak Daily Mirror
March 11, 2024

Alitak area set netters are reeling after receiving notice Friday that OBI Seafoods would not be buying salmon there this spring. 

Up to 40 set net families, mainly from Kodiak and the Kodiak Island village of Akhiok, would lose their market in the move, as announced by individual phone calls from Seattle-based OBI to the set net camp operators on Friday afternoon. 

Two Kodiak-based fish tenders are also affected. The company’s maintenance and retail services facility at the former cannery at Lazy Bay will also be closed. That’s one less way for the village of Akhiok to access ice, fuel and groceries.

OBI Seafoods CEO John Hanrahan said Monday that ceasing operations at Alitak was a difficult decision. 

“It’s not something that we want to do, and we’ve struggled with it. We and Ocean Beauty before us have worked with the group there for a long time, but the cost of keeping it open, making ice and tendering, it’s just so high. It’s a tough decision, and we’re looking for answers, too,” Hanrahan said.

Hanrahan said that between making and delivering ice to set net sites and running time, it costs OBI about $1 per pound to transport salmon from the Alitak District to its plant in Kodiak. 

“It’s substantially over what is competitive,” Hanrahan said. 

He said one idea is for the Alitak group to contract out ice and tendering services to get their catch to town. 

“We want to help, and we’re willing to work through the pieces and offer whatever resources we can,” Hanrahan said. 

Many of the Alitak operations are multi-generational, with some third-generation camps, and at least two operations were just purchased by new entries in the fishery. 

This summer would be the 20th at Alitak for Kodiak set netter Theresa Peterson. 

“We really don’t have any options at this point. We can’t just pick up and move. It’s pretty devastating to have your identity and your livelihood just erased in one phone call,” Peterson said.

Kodiak set netter Jason Watt said the decision was more than just a loss of a job. 

“We are currently devastated by the news that OBI intends to cut salmon set harvesters of the Alitak district loose, as our livelihoods are hanging in the balance. Even more challenging to receive this news just weeks a couple months to the opening of the 2024 salmon season. It’s leaving us treading water without a lifejacket,” Watt wrote in an email to KDM.

“We have been meeting daily to research and explore solutions and remain hopeful that OBI will work with us to find a feasible solution for the 2024 salmon season. Our legislative representatives are extending support, and we need the support of our fellow Kodiak salmon fishers, the community of Kodiak and village communities of Kodiak. 

“This action as it currently stands has a devastating impact on all of our communities and fishing industry as a whole, from tax revenues to management, practices and sustainability of our district salmon runs.”

Kodiak set netter Jim Pryor said the group’s next steps are yet to be determined. 

“I don’t know what to think at this point. We’re scrambling to find a buyer now. We’re stationary on the beach and the tender brings everything — gear, fuel and groceries. We’re not sure what to do,” he said.

Pryor, who serves on the Kodiak Island Borough School District Board of Education, said the closure’s impact will be felt in Kodiak. 

“It’s one more thing that hits the local economy,” Pryor said. “It’s not as big a deal as the Trident sale, but for the families it impacts directly, it’s a big deal.

Alitak set netters have met daily since Friday to develop a unified response to OBI’s announcement. No details were available on the results of the meetings. OBI CEO Hanrahan said he’s willing to meet with the group later this week to explore ideas moving forward. 

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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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