Peter Pan Seafood closes largest Alaska plant for this winter
January 17, 2024
In a major hit to Southwest Alaska’s fishing industry, Peter Pan Seafood will keep its huge plant in the village of King Cove shuttered this winter, meaning that the company won’t be processing millions of dollars worth of cod, pollock, crab, salmon and halibut.
“It's one of the most difficult days of my life,” Rodger May, one of the company’s owners and a longtime player in the seafood industry, said in a brief interview Thursday, Jan. 11 “It's just a devastating time for the industry.”
The closure is the latest sign of the widening turmoil in Alaska seafood markets, which are contending with depressed global demand across many different species and intense competition from producers in Russia.
Last month, one of the industry’s biggest processors, Trident Seafoods, said it would sell off four of its plants amid a restructuring, including facilities in Petersburg and Ketchikan. And over the summer, salmon fishermen in Bristol Bay staged a floating protest of historically low prices offered for their catch.
“You can't keep on going to work producing product and selling it at a loss,” May said, adding that Peter Pan remains “asset rich” and is not close to declaring bankruptcy. The King Cove plant is the company’s largest processing facility.
The company first informed King Cove officials Jan. 11 about the closure. The plant contributes some $2 million in yearly fish tax revenue for the community of 850 people at the western end of the Alaska Peninsula, about 600 air miles southwest of Anchorage.
The winter months that the plant will now stay closed typically generate roughly one-third of King Cove’s municipal revenues, said Gary Hennigh, King Cove’s city administrator.
May worked with two investment firms — including Anchorage-based McKinley Capital Management, which was using money from the Alaska Permanent Fund — acquired Peter Pan in 2021 and made a splash in the industry by offering fishermen high prices for their catch.
But as the industry ran into trouble this year, signs of instability at the processing company had been popping up for months. In addition to King Cove, the company has plants in Dillingham, Valdez and Port Moller.
An array of fishermen and companies filed liens against Peter Pan last year for unpaid deliveries of seafood, including, in December, one of the stars of the “Deadliest Catch” reality show.
Erik Velsko, a fishermen from Homer who delivered cod to Peter Pan last year, said his payments were months late, and he plans to fish for Trident this winter instead. Other fishermen and boats, however, may not be able to find another processor to buy their catch.
“Trident, they can’t just take every boat,” Velsko said Jan. 11. “I think there are a lot of boats that don’t have markets.”
This article was originally published in the Northern Journal, a newsletter from Alaska journalist Nathaniel Herz.