Trident bars workers from leaving Aleutian plant to protect neighboring village from coronavirus

An aerial view of Akutan Harbor. (Photo: Stephanie Joyce/KUCB)

Trident Seafoods has restricted access between the Aleutian Island village of Akutan and its huge processing plant nearby, in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Akutan, a village of some 100 people, lies 35 miles east of Unalaska. It also boasts the largest seafood processing plant in North America. The Trident-operated plant hosts 1,400 employees a half-mile walk from the rest of the town.

There is no airport on Akutan. Visitors, residents and plant workers must fly to the neighboring island of Akun and, from there, take a helicopter to Akutan, or ride over on a boat.

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While Akutan does have a small clinic with two health-care providers, there are no doctors. The nearest hospital is hundreds of miles away.

Trident’s Akutan plant processes a big share of the catch from Alaska’s billion-dollar pollock fishery, and the first part of the season — known as “A season” — runs through April. Workers at the plant are flown in from outside the community.

Trident’s new measures aim to “prevent the virus from entering our plant and to be able to complete our A-season operations,” Stefanie Moreland, a Trident executive, said in a statement.

Fishing crews delivering to the plant must stay on their boats, no new employees will start working at the plant and current employees are restricted from visiting the village of Akutan. If workers leave the plant grounds, they cannot re-enter.

Under the old system, it was only a matter of time before coronavirus hit the rural village, said Akutan Mayor Joe Bereskin.

“I appreciate their effort to try and beat the curve down there,” Bereskin said. “That’s what they’re trying to do.”

Trident’s steps in Akutan appear to be the most drastic steps taken by any Alaska processing plant.

The state hopes to keep processing plants operating and there are no plans so far to shut them down, public health officials said at a news conference Wednesday.

Alaska processors harvested 5.7 billion pounds of seafood, worth $4.7 billion, in the 2017-2018 season. Seafood accounted for 70 percent of the state’s manufacturing employment in 2018.

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