Pelican is a small community. But it is a fishing community. And for five years it was a fish town without a processor to buy the local fleet’s salmon catch. That changed in 2015 when Yakobi Fisheries, owned by Pelican resident Seth Stewart, restarted operations in a former crab plant owned by the city. Today, they’re one of the biggest revenue generators for the city of 55 permanent residents, processing about $1.5 million in fish last season.
Now the city is negotiating the sale of the former crab plant which Yakobi Fisheries has been leasing for the past eight years. Stewart says Yakobi Fisheries has invested in the crab plant, and would like to control those investments.
“We’d like to be in control of the future of our business and not have someone else in control of it,” said Stewart.
That specter of outside control was raised in recent months. An investor partnership had offered around $500,000 for the crab plant building but the city wasn’t interested.
Kent Craford, co-owner of Alaska Seaplanes was involved. The other half of the partnership is long-time Pelican resident, Steve Daniels, who owns the Highliner Lodge in town.
“I waited for some kind of response from the city for over five weeks, I believe. And then finally there was a meeting. And it wasn’t on the agenda,” Daniels said.
According to Daniels, his charter businesses generated almost $200,000 in city revenue last year, suggesting Highliner Lodge may have a greater economic impact in the community than Yakobi Fisheries. The pair is now threatening legal action if the city doesn’t consider their offer, which they say would allow Yakobi Fisheries to remain as a long-term tenant.
Pelican Mayor Patricia Phillips didn’t want to be recorded for this story. But in an interview, she said that the City Council feels Yakobi owning the property would be the best option for a community which is rooted in commercial fishing.
Critics are concerned about a new city ordinance that would allow the sale of the crab plant to Yakobi for below market value, so long as it fosters economic development. The ordinance was passed unanimously by the City Council in December.
One of the most vocal critics has been Pelican resident Gerald Foss. He’s concerned the city council is acting against the long-term interests of the community by crafting what he fears could be a sweetheart deal for the biggest business in town. He notes that a majority on the council are linked to the commercial fishing industry.
“It makes it so a small group of people can pretty much take over the town with their votes,” Foss said. “Four votes on a council, they can do anything they want.”
Kent Craford, one of the spurned investors, says the issue is not that the city has apparently chosen to sell to Yakobi, but rather that they’ve failed to be transparent with other potential buyers.
“They have one opportunity to maximize the return on the sale of that asset for the people of Pelican. They have a responsibility — a fiduciary responsibility to the people of Pelican,” said Craford. “And so what’s just confusing to me is why they why they haven’t given our proposal, It’s due and equal consideration.”
But Pelican’s Mayor, Patricia Phillips insists the City Council is following the will of its citizens. She says the city has received some 40 letters supporting the sale to Yakobi Fisheries.
Yakobi Fisheries has invested in Pelican and the city recognizes that, says owner Seth Stewart.
“Generations of fishermen have delivered fish and Pelican. And it’s amazing to have these people that have been fishing for 40 years to process fish with us,” Stewart said “And how happy they are that they can do that again. There’s a real community that’s based in commercial fishing, that lasts more than just a season or more than just, you know, that one delivery.”
Pelican’s mayor says negotiations over terms of a sale are ongoing and no decision has been made. There will be public meetings before anything’s final. In the meantime, would-be investor, Steve Daniels says he’s shopping for an attorney.
This story was updated at on February 16th to more accurately portray Steve Daniel’s residency in Pelican, and the economic contribution of the Highliner Lodge to local government.
Tash Kimmell is an Report for America Corps Member.