Trident’s new processing plant in Unalaska will be the largest in North America

construction workers and machinery at a coastal construction site
Trident Seafoods is constructing a state-of-the-art facility to process fish in Unalaska. Representatives say they expect to be online in 2027. (Hope McKenny/KUCB)

Trident Seafoods has begun building the first bunkhouses at its to-be processing plant in Unalaska’s Captains Bay, progressing on a timeline the seafood titan says would make it operational by 2027.

The Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea region is home to some of the world’s most productive fishing grounds. It’s where most Alaska pollock comes from, the whitefish found in fish sticks and McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwiches worldwide. And a lot of that fish is processed at the giant Trident Seafoods plant in Akutan.

But aging infrastructure and decades of wear prompted the seafood company to plan a new facility.

“Status quo in Akutan isn’t an option,” said Stefanie Moreland, a spokesperson for the company. “We can’t be operating a plant and making the kinds of changes and improvements that we need to within the facility that we’re running currently in Akutan.”

The company began a feasibility study in 2017 to explore ways to upgrade its Akutan plant. They tested things like building designs and energy efficiencies, but ultimately, representatives from the company said a complete rebuild was the only reasonable option.

Trident began constructing a dock on Captains Bay in Unalaska in spring 2022, after its subsidiary, LFS, acquired a tidelands lease from the City of Unalaska.

“We started in ‘22 [with] rock removal, rock crushing, getting kind of a building site ready,” said Jarred Brand, the site manager for the project. “We built over 1,500 feet of sheet pile dock, and we needed to let that settle for a year.”

Now, they are grading the site, working on a fendering system, and building the first bunkhouse.

a storage container and other construction materials at the edge of a coastal construction site
Construction is underway for Trident Seafood’s Unalaska facility. (Hope McKenney/KUCB)

While the company didn’t specify the size of the new plant, Brand said it would be at least as large as the Akutan plant, currently the largest processing facility in North America.

“We’re not getting any smaller,” Brand said.

Brand said the new plant will focus on automation, renewable energy, and on 100% protein capture — that is, being so efficient that not a scrap of fish is left to pump out to sea.

“In our industry, there’s a lot of waste that goes out the outfall pipes,” Brand said. “So we’ve been working on this process for quite some time, knowing that the future is 100% capture and putting it into a sellable product.”

Integrating the new plant into the city’s existing infrastructure poses a whole other set of variables.

Unalaska City Manager Bil Homka said considerations like power generation, plumbing and road access all pose serious challenges.

“We have diced this thing like a Rubik’s Cube, except it’s almost like a Rubik’s rectangle, just to kind of make it stranger,” Homka said. “You see all the parts … you twist one here, you twist one there and see how it works.”

The City of Unalaska is the community’s primary electricity provider, but the diesel power station doesn’t produce enough energy to power the new plant.

“Our existing power house only has room for one more generator,” Homka said. “And it’s only a maximum output of [about] four and a half megawatts, so we’d still be short.”

Many seafood processors provide their own energy, often through a combination of diesel and fish oil, but Trident says it wants to avoid power production.

The seafood company is hopeful about another potential energy source in the works: the Makushin Geothermal Project.

The community has been trying to tap nearby Makushin Volcano for geothermal energy since at least the 1980s. After decades of false starts, a contractor is currently working on the project — nothing is guaranteed, but Homka said the timing could dovetail with the new seafood facility.

“Wonderful if it all syncs up timing-wise between when Trident will be online and when geothermal will be ready,” Homka said. “Timing is of an amazing essence.”

The Trident crew is currently building bunkhouses and the geothermal crew is building an access road. Both projects are slated to come online in 2027.

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