The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has fined a Bristol Bay fish processing plant $467,469 for 2017 violations, including tipping millions of pounds more fish waste into the Naknek River than they were allowed to dispose of.
Silver Bay Seafoods’ facility on the Naknek River also allowed a ship in 2021 to dump bloody sewage from the catch into waters near the dock, in violation of state requirements, according to a 37-page consent agreement released Monday signed by Alaska corporations and officials.
Silver Bay Seafoods, which operates several Alaskan seafood processing plants, has taken steps to address the problem, a company spokeswoman said.
“Silver Bay Seafoods voluntarily took corrective action before the settlement was finalized,” said Abby Fredrick, a spokeswoman for the company. “We are confident that these measures will ensure compliance for this season and beyond.”
The facility is located approximately 300 miles southwest of Anchorage. It is about 5 miles upstream from the mouth of the Naknek River. The company was granted state permission to dump 10 million pounds of fish down a drain into the river after it was chopped up into tiny pieces. But too much litter can harm the river system, the agency said in a statement on Wednesday.
The fine comes just as another massive salmon fishing season is expected in Bristol Bay. Fishermen and processors are preparing for a possible record run of 75 million sockeye salmon, the state said.
The fine appears to be the highest ever imposed by the Alaska Division of Water, including previous violations by the oil and gas and mining industries, said Randy Bates, director of the division.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the highest overall penalty imposed on a permit holder,” Bates said in an interview.
Silver Bay knowingly disregarded the state’s permit requirements, Bates said.
Bates said the amount of the fine was based on a calculation based on Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. Much of this relates to the economic benefit the processor derives from the violations over competitors, he said.
The fine is the result of negotiations between the company and the water authority, Bates said.
Silver Bay Seafoods has grown rapidly since opening its first facility in Sitka in 2007. According to Alaska business records, one of the owners is StarKist, the US tuna canning company.
A 2021 inspection by the Department of Environmental Conservation found multiple violations at the Naknek facility, including fish waste not being shredded into small enough pieces, the agency said in a statement.
In 2020, Silver Bay Seafoods illegally dumped about 5 million pounds of fish waste into the Naknek River, exceeding the allowable limit by about 50%, the state said in its statement.
And in 2017, the fish factory illegally dumped about 3 million pounds of waste into the Naknek River, about 30% more than was allowed. The company claimed this was “due to the unprecedented amount of salmon we processed (this) year,” according to documents linked to the agreement.
The agreement sets out steps Silver Bay must take to prevent similar waste in the future.
These include contracts with transport vessels to haul extra waste away from the river and better communication with captains about restrictions on discharging fisheries effluent into the water at the dock.
Bates said the penalty was intended to deter other seafood processors from breaking the law.
“If you look at Bristol Bay’s record runs, a lot of the money is being made by fishermen and processors,” Bates said. “I don’t know how this penalty compares to corporate profit lines, but we need it to comply with the terms of the environmental permits.”