PUBLISHED: 4:21 PM on Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Klawock could get specialty seafood processing facility
KLAWOCK - A Juneau man wants to bring jobs to his hometown of Klawock by starting a specialty seafood processing facility.

John Skan, owner of a new company called Alaskan Pride Seafood's, plans to open a 10,000 square foot processing facility to market and sell specialty items such as Dungeness crab, geoduck clams, shrimp, sea cucumbers, and smoke salmon filets.

SARDFA file photo
  John Skan hopes to open a specialty seafood processing facility in Klawock, which could open as early as fall of 2009. Sea urchin are among rare seafoods that could potentially be prosessed and sold overseas to Japan.
Although the company has yet to break ground on the facility, buyers from China, Japan, Canada and California have contacted Skan in hopes of buying the future product.

"What is enticing about this project ... is that the processing period is from September to January when all the other seafood companies shut down," Skan said.

Skan said the facility will create between 12-15 jobs in Klawock, where more employment is sorely needed. Skan hopes the facility will open by October 2009.

Klawock's population is about 850 and has an unemployment rate of 12 percent, about double the statewide average of 6.9 percent, according to the Alaska Department of Labor.

SARDFA file photo
  A Klawock processing facility means local fishermen will no longer have to export their catch to locations such as Craig, Alaska.
Klawock City Administrator Leslie Isaacs said city council and the mayor are in full support of the project.

"The specialty seafood market doesn't exist here in Klawock," Isaacs said. "The local diving fleet delivers their product in Craig and it's processed and shipped out."

Klawock already has a salmon cannery but Alaskan Pride Seafood's would give more options to commercial diver fisherman who search the ocean floor for geoduck clams and sea cucumbers. With construction of a new facility, the local fishing fleet could sell their catch in Klawock instead of shipping it out to Craig.

"Having another processing plant here locally would provide more local jobs and provide an avenue for the local dive fleet to have another place to sell their product," Isaacs said. "Putting local people to work is something the city wholeheartedly supports."

SARDFA file photo
  A Klawock seafood processing facility will give local dive fleets another place to sell their catch, said Klawock City Administrator Leslie Isaacs.
Skan hopes to establish relationships with the local commercial dive fishermen on Prince of Wales Island who hold permits for geoduck clams and sea cucumbers.

"There are a number of dive permits on Prince of Wales Island that we feel are sufficient enough to supply us adequately with our product," Skan said. "We are going to share some of the profits with fisherman that are doing the harvesting for us."

Klawock passed a resolution endorsing construction of the project and has reserved a space on its city dock. The next step is to hire an engineer to conduct a load analysis to determine whether the dock can support the weight of a new building. If the dock is stable, the city would go ahead with pursuing financing to build the processing facility. The project would be a joint effort between Alaskan Pride Seafood's and Klawock. The city would own the facility, but Alaskan Pride Seafood's would operate the business and lease the space from the city.

  John Skan
Skan has already secured start-up money for the project. In October 2007, Alaskan Pride Seafood's won a $35,000 grant from the Alaska Marketplace competition, which is sponsored by the Alaska Federation of Natives. The competition was devised to tap into the knowledge and skills of rural Alaska residents.

Skan's proposal for Alaskan Pride Seafood's was one of 21 winners picked from a field of 306 applicants statewide. Skan said he used his 20-plus years of experience in the seafood industry when drafting the proposal.

Skan also received start-up funding from two Japanese investors after giving them a tour of the Klawock in the fall of 2007. Skan wouldn't disclose how much money the Japanese investors are contributing but he received enough to pay for feasibility study.

Greg Fisk of Sea Fisk Consulting conducted the study, which determined the project could be a profitable business venture.

According to information provided by Fisk, in 2007 sea food processers paid Southeast Alaska fisherman $19.5 million for geoduck clams, Dungeness crab, spot prawns and sea cucumbers.

Fisk said the primary buyers of sea cucumbers and geoduck clams are in China and Japan. Sea Urchins are another product that could be sold to the Japanese, but Fisk said market prices are too low right now because of Russia's high involvement in the market.

Although the market is low for sea urchins with prices at about 30 cents per pound, Ketchikan dive fisherman Craig Thomas thinks there is potential for a local processor to make money from selling sea urchins. Thomas said there is currently only one buyer in Ketchikan and the sea urchins are shipped to California for preparation.

"They tray them up (in California) and ship them over to Japan. There's a lot of middle man involvement," Thomas said. "There is room there for a processor that wants to start doing some tray packing."