Biggest salmon processor in Haines will not operate for third year in a row

The biggest fish processing plant in the Haines borough will stay closed next summer for the third straight season, OBI Seafoods’ Excursion Inlet plant manager Tom Marshall said last week, citing a low pink salmon forecast and the company’s ability to handle the regional load at its Petersburg plant.

The continued suspension of processing at Excursion means the borough will see another year of low raw fish tax revenue. Haines averaged about $200,000 in taxes on fish landed locally in the five years prior to the Excursion plant’s closure, compared to $37,240 the first season the plant didn’t process.

It’s similar in Wrangell, where the loss of the Trident Seafoods plant — which has not operated since 2019 — has cut into fish tax receipts for the borough. Trident has cited weak chum returns for its decision to keep the Wrangell plant closed.

The state shares 50% of fish taxes back to the municipalities where the catch is brought to shore

Although OBI Seafoods won’t be processing at Excursion, the company still plans to send tenders into Lynn Canal to buy fish for delivery to the Petersburg plant, as it has the past two seasons, and to provide basic services at its facility — ice, net storage and fuel.

Marshall said the company is making decisions about Excursion on a year-to-year basis. He declined to comment on the company’s long-term plan for the cannery or on whether there is a timeline for when a permanent decision might be made about its future.

As for the upcoming season, he said “the general level of all the fisheries combined is just not enough to warrant us opening there.” He added that OBI has “enough production capacity in Petersburg” to cover the region next year.

The Southeast Alaska pink salmon harvest forecast released earlier this month also played a role in the decision, Marshall said.

Next year’s harvest is projected to be weak, according to federal and state researchers who base projections on sea temperature models and trawl surveys in Chatham and Icy straits.

The forecasted harvest is 19 million fish — about 39% of the average catch in past 10 odd-numbered years. The last odd-year harvest was more than 48 million fish. The pink run has a two-year cycle, with odd-year harvests usually well above even years.

Marshall called the weak forecast “really surprising” considering how much lower it is than the 2021 catch. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists said their trawl survey results — which showed a low abundance of juvenile pinks last summer — were “unexpected given generally robust escapements in most of the region in 2021,” according to the Nov. 8 forecast announcement.

The scientists theorized that a long cold spell in early 2022 might have “negatively impacted developing embryos, but we do not know for certain what caused the low juvenile abundance.” Lynn Canal pink runs have declined since they peaked about a decade ago.

The effects of climate change on the local runs are not fully clear. “I would say we don’t really know what is going to happen for Southeast pink salmon over the long-term and for the short term it really depends on year-to-year environmental conditions in Southeast and in the Gulf of Alaska,” state fishery biologist Andrew Piston said in an email.

In addition to pinks, OBI Seafoods also processed chum and sockeye salmon at Excursion Inlet. Two years ago, the Lynn Canal chum salmon fishery collapsed. The plant processed only about two million pounds of fish that year, Marshall said last summer. Historically, a poor season might’ve seen about 12 million to 15 million pounds come through the plant, Marshall said. A good year might’ve seen up to 30 million pounds.

 

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