The precipitous drop in Gulf of Alaska cod recently closed the federal fishery for the upcoming season. Its effects are also being felt by processors who rely on the fish for their winter workload. The Trident Seafoods plant in Sand Point closed last month for the winter, leaving a gaping hole in the city’s budget, and sowing uncertainty about the future.
The city of Sand Point was founded on cod. Settled less than 150 years ago, it’s had a processing plant in some form for nearly a century. This year is the first that the plant, now owned by Trident Seafoods, won’t be processing cod — and that’s because of climate change.
“It’s no fault of the plant at Sand Point, however, there’s not enough fish to process. So for the first time in my life, it’s closed,” Paul Gronholdt, an Aleutians East Borough assembly member testified at the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting earlier this month. “That’s going to be pretty devastating to Sand Point and it’ll hurt the other communities in our region too.”
A massive marine heat wave known as “The Blob” began decimating Gulf cod stocks five years ago, and this year saw the lowest cod numbers on record.
With so few fish to process, Trident closed the processing line on November 8 and notified the city in an email the same day, according to city administrator Jordan Keeler. Trident declined a request for an interview.
“This was not expected at all. This is the first time in recent memory — or long memory actually — that it’s happened,” Keeler said.
In a fishing town of just under a 1,000, a large employer industry forced to close for six months is a huge blow. At peak seasons, the plant employs as many as 400 people. Keeler says many of them are out-of town seasonal workers, however, so the biggest impact might not be unemployment, but rather the loss to the city’s tax base.
“We’re looking at a significant loss of raw fish tax, as well as a loss of sales tax revenue because the fleet isn’t buying fuel, gear, paying for repairs of their boats,” said Keeler.
In the months the plant is closed, Keeler estimates they’ll lose half of their $600,000 sales tax budget and another $160,000 out of a $400,000 raw fish tax budget. Keeler says the city has a cash reserve it can use to fill in those holes, and they’ll reevaluate in the spring.
But he says the community will feel the loss regardless.
“We expect to see you know, a reduction in purchases at the store. That’s for sure,” he said. “How it impacts people buying airline tickets, or buying consumer goods — if there’s less money, there’s less money to spend.”
The Trident plant processes salmon, halibut and sablefish at various times of the year, but winters are mainly cod and pollock, brought in from Sand Point’s own fishing fleet as well as boats as far away as Kodiak.
For now, Keeler expects Sand Point will just have to ride out storm and hope for better conditions next year.