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Pelican has never recovered from Seattle-based Pelican Seafoods’ decision in the early 1970s to sell all of its holdings to Kaio Suisan, a Japanese firm. In the late 1980s, Kaio Suisan sold its Pelican holdings to Kake Tribal Corporation. The cold storage, cannery, fuel dock, general store, company houses, and utilities were eventually returned to local ownership — the City of Pelican — in 2010.
Yakobi Fisheries: Pelican’s Homegrown Enterprise 020718 AE 1 Norm Carson, for the Capital City Weekly Pelican has never recovered from Seattle-based Pelican Seafoods’ decision in the early 1970s to sell all of its holdings to Kaio Suisan, a Japanese firm. In the late 1980s, Kaio Suisan sold its Pelican holdings to Kake Tribal Corporation. The cold storage, cannery, fuel dock, general store, company houses, and utilities were eventually returned to local ownership — the City of Pelican — in 2010.

The Stewart family of Pelican, who started Yakobi Fisheries. Pictured are Seth and Anna Stewart, Marin, age three, and Zane, now 15 months old. Courtesy image


A Yakobi Fisheries worker drives a load of processed salmon. The company exports both via the Alaska Marine Highway and Alaska Seaplanes. Courtesy image


Yakobi Fisheries' sign in Pelican. Courtesy image.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Story last updated at 2/7/2018 - 5:18 pm

Yakobi Fisheries: Pelican’s Homegrown Enterprise

Pelican has never recovered from Seattle-based Pelican Seafoods’ decision in the early 1970s to sell all of its holdings to Kaio Suisan, a Japanese firm. In the late 1980s, Kaio Suisan sold its Pelican holdings to Kake Tribal Corporation. The cold storage, cannery, fuel dock, general store, company houses, and utilities were eventually returned to local ownership — the City of Pelican — in 2010.

For a long time, it was a struggle to find new private investors in the former seafood plant. In 2014, the town and its residents were debating two different futures for the plant and the town. One was development into a “world-class fishing destination” proposed by business partners Steve Daniels, a Pelican resident, and Kent Craford, owner of Alaska Seaplanes. The second was the expansion of Yakobi Fisheries, a seafood processor and freezer owned by Pelican residents Seth and Anna Stewart.

It’s the Stewarts, and their homegrown processing and packing direct-order business, whose plan went all the way.

To say Yakobi Fisheries is homegrown is an understatement; Seth was born in Pelican and graduated from high school there. The Stewart family a big one in town; Seth’s parents, two brothers, two sisters, a brother-in-law, aunt and uncle, and several cousins still call Pelican home.

After high school, Seth attended Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. In 2005 he earned a Bachelor’s degree in business management. More importantly, he met Anna, his future wife and business partner. Before they were married in 2011, Anna worked on the Shoreline buying scow at Ewe Ledge in Lisianski Inlet. Today they have two children, Marin, three years, and Zane, 15 months.

Seth first started in the commercial fishing business as a deckhand on his cousin’s boat when he was just 10 years old. During his college years he began crewing on a local commercial longline, crab, and salmon trolling boat. In a few short years Seth purchased the wooden troller “Dutchmaster.” Later, he sold it and bought the fiberglass-built troller the “Camosun.” With a college background in business and economics, and a wife involved in the fish-buying end of the commercial industry, it is no surprise the Stewarts became interested in processing and marketing the end product.

Local Deb Spencer was running the buying scow, Shoreline, where Anna first worked in the Pelican area. Deb and husband, Keith Heller, had built a small fish processing and freezing building at the southern end of Pelican. In 2010, she began tutoring Seth in the area of fish processing and marketing. Indeed, for the first couple of years, Deb processed all the fish from Seth’s boat. Once Seth saw there was a viable market, he and Anna leased space from Deb so they could handle the entire operation.

By 2013, most of the Stewart’s product was of frozen portions of salmon; their customers were mostly people in organized buying clubs. The orders were generally for quantities of a couple hundred pounds, but larger groups would request a larger amount. At the end of this first year, their final yield was around 4,000 pounds. But as people heard they were selling quality fish and more began to place orders, they ran into the problem of finding enough frozen storage. In 2014, Seth and Anna were borrowing freezer space from relatives in order to meet demand for vacuum-packed king and coho salmon fillets; if their operation was to grow, they knew its business model had to change.

In 2015, the Stewarts made a huge change. They signed a lease with the City of Pelican for a portion of the former crab cannery. Yakobi Fisheries was now Seth’s full time job. All the salmon were delivered by local commercial salmon trollers, processed and frozen in the renovated space. Operating on a limited budget it was difficult to find additional employees during the busier midsummer months, though they hired their first non-family member that summer. Loyal family members, friends and fishermen helped them succeed.

By the end of the 2017 season, Yakobi Fisheries had up to 16 employees on the payroll at one time; nine were full time seasonal employees, not counting the owners. They shipped out approximately 66,000 pounds of processed fish. All the salmon were sold by local fishermen, who were paid extra for bringing in high quality fish. To help maintain their reputation for quality, Seth inspects incoming fish himself, no matter who it’s bound for. Yakobi Fisheries processes sport caught fish for the charter fleet and sportsmen as well.

They have added a lot more equipment over the years, leasing four 20-foot freezer containers (which can hold about 50,000 pounds of fish) in Juneau. They also bought other equipment, including freezers and vacuum packers.

The Stewarts also added Chris McDowell of Juneau as a business partner in 2017. McDowell is a life-long Alaskan and took up commercial fishing with his father, Eric, not long after beginning to walk. He manages the Juneau operation.

In order to ship supplies in and product out, Yakobi Fisheries relies heavily upon the Alaska Marine Highway System and Alaska Seaplanes. Juneau based Jerue & Smith Transport bring freight vans out to Pelican on the ferry loaded with an assortment of goods and haul the frozen Yakobi Fisheries product back to Juneau. AMHS plays a vital part when it comes to moving the heavy loads of frozen fish to market. Alaska Seaplanes flies in boxes of fish that are needed right away for the purchaser; it’s less in quantity, but still an important aspect of the operation.

With the 2018 season right around the corner, the business is looking at more growth. Because of demand from returning customers, they expect to ship out three times what they did in 2017, leading to 15 seasonal employees this summer. Their main product is coho, but they’ll also ship out pink and king salmon, as well as halibut and black cod — possibly, some of it smoked, as they’re thinking about adding a smoker to their production line. Seth has plans for more growth after that, as well, with an option for a 25-year lease on their facility.

It will be 80 years this August since Kalle Raatikainen brought his fish packer, “Pelican,” to Lisianski Inlet and built a cold storage plant. The Pelican Cold Storage that many of us remember is no longer — a victim of a changing economy, technology, and market. Seth and Anna have brought the same spirit of “can do” and pride in work product to Pelican as did Kalle Raatikainen, but with new equipment and energy.

You can reach Yakobi Fisheries at (907)209-1053 or yakobifish@yahoo.com. See www.pelican.net for more information on Pelican.

To read about the 2014 proposals, go to http://juneauempire.com/local/2014-03-04/proposal-bring-tourists-pelican-raises-eyebrows.

Norm Carson is the president of the Pelican Chamber of Commerce. He is also a Pelican historian and author.