Story last updated at 1/28/2009 - 11:05 am
WRANGELL - Wrangell Seafoods, a processor of Southeast Alaska seafoods in Wrangell, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Anchorage, acknowledging millions of dollars in debts.
Company President Douglas Roberts signed the documents, but did not respond to phone calls regarding the bankruptcy.
An official with the city of Wrangell said two bad fishing seasons likely were a major part of the problem. The city of Wrangell is among the dozens of creditors.
The bankruptcy was filed Jan. 9. The bankruptcy court is expected to schedule hearings after all required paperwork is filed, before the end of January.
Wrangell City Manager Bob Prunella said at least part of the problem was that area fishermen anticipated harvesting a substantial amount of chum salmon over the past two fishing seasons at nearby Anita Bay, but the chum did not materialize. Harvests of pink salmon have also been poor for two years, he said.
The Wrangell plant also processes halibut, herring, lingcod, rockfish, shrimp, prawns and sea cucumber.
Wrangell Seafoods began operations in 1956 as a partnership known as Harbor Seafoods Inc. The company focused on expansion into several areas of seafood processing. In 1974, Alaska Pulp Corp. purchased the firm, then sold it in 1984 to J.S. McMillian Fisheries Ltd., which gave it the name Wrangell Fisheries Inc.
By 1998, the owners wanted to divest their interest in the company due to financial restructuring, according to the company's Website.
Since the processor was a major employer in Wrangell, employing up to 130 people at the peak of the season and buying from 200 fishing vessels, the city of Wrangell purchased the assets of the company in June 1998, then leased the assets to a newly formed firm named Wrangell Seafoods Inc.
According to the company Web site, there were roughly 21 shareholders, including seafood industry participants, fishermen, local residents and business owners. Their stated common goal was to save the last major seafood producer in Wrangell. With public support from residents, the city of Wrangell solicited proposals for the sale of the cannery and cold storage. Wrangell Seafoods was the successful bidder.
In 2000, Wrangell Seafoods entered into a sales agreement with the city of Wrangell with financing terms of 30 years at 4 percent interest. New management in the processing firm focused on risk aversion and trying to develop new markets, but the company still ended up in bankruptcy court.
Major creditors and their offices, as listed in bankruptcy documents, include Lynden Transport Inc., Wrangell; the Seattle Tacoma Box Co., Anchorage; the city of Wrangell; Alaska Marine Lines, Seattle; and Bering Pacific Seafoods, Juneau.