A Sitka-based seafood processor has won an innovation award — although it hasn’t processed much fish yet.
Northline Seafoods was one of nine international organizations recognized by Fish 2.0, at its Innovation Forum at Stanford University earlier this month.
The award has a cash component, but Northline’s co-founder hopes the big prize is new investment in what his company considers a higher-quality product.
Northline Seafoods has converted a former helicopter logging barge into a floating processor over the past year in Sitka’s industrial park.
The company plans to station the barge in western Bristol Bay during next summer’s sockeye run, to significantly reduce delivery times for fishermen working at a distance from the region’s shore-based processors, and then resupply them with ice during the lightning-fast season.
Northline co-founder Ben Blakely has long been one of those fishermen. He applied to Fish 2.0 back in February, and spent four months providing the forum with information and interviews about the Northline operation.
Winning recognition is only part of the payback.
“The goal is essentially to get investor focus, and to make people aware on the financing side of what’s happening in the world’s oceans, and make them aware of the businesses who are trying to change things — change them for the better.”
The Bristol Bay sockeye season is one of Alaska’s most valuable salmon fisheries, and it’s over in a matter of weeks. Millions of pounds of salmon are landed by gillnetters and seiners, and frozen whole for secondary processing elsewhere later.
So much fish coming in so fast can affect quality. By cutting the distance between processing and the fleet, Blakey believes that Northline can guarantee a higher-quality product.
Still, it’s a whole sockeye in the round — and it’s sold on a different market than other Alaskan salmon.
“We want to find customers who can use it. Who want to use the heads, who have the ability to get value out of the roe. It’s a novel use of fish in the sense that we’re not shipping headed and gutted product.”
Last summer Northline processed pink and chum salmon landed in Sitka, filling several shipping containers. The barge produced about 10 tons of ice a day. This winter, the processor will be hauled ashore for final work on the hull, and the installation of more compressor “horsepower.” Next summer in Bristol Bay, the barge should be capable of freezing 300-thousand pounds of fish a day, and producing 90-tons of ice a day.
All from somewhere near Clark’s Point on the Nushagak River.
Northline won $5,000 in cash from Fish 2.0, and Blakely traveled to Palo Alto to give an acceptance speech on the campus of Stanford University.
He says he went on a little too long.
“Well, there’s no music. You get a big red light and an X across the throat. It’s pretty straightforward. But it was a great experience. I met a lot of really cool people. I’m hoping we can get our business on the map a little bit, and let people know that we’re building some cool stuff in Sitka.”
Blakey says the Northline floating processor will be ready to move to Bristol Bay in early May.