PUBLISHED: 4:42 PM on Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Seafood processing plant now up, running in Sitka
Sitka recently welcomed a new bustling business to town with the opening of Silver Bay Seafoods, a salmon processing plant. The plant opened for the 2007 season this summer; its season will run from June through September.

"Anything beyond that will be a future decision," said chief executive officer Richard Riggs.

The fish plant began construction in Sitka's Sawmill Cove Industrial Park location, where a giant wood pulp mill operated up until 1993. With the government owning the park, a lease was signed with the City and Borough of Sitka in November 2006.

They pushed hard to be open in time for the summer's salmon runs.

"Until June, we were in the midst of a huge state-of-the-art processing and freezing facility project," he said.

"This is the vision of Troy Denkinger (managing partner), who was formerly a seine fisherman and wanted to vertically integrate the fisherman into the processing phase and to carry that chain of custody one step further," Riggs said.

Denkinger averages nearly 2 million pound of salmon per summer for 11 years, online sources state.

The plant will offer other salmon seiners a place to sell their catches in a region lacking adequate processor capacity as well as contribute substantial work in the area.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority loaned $1.2 million to Stikine Holdings, developer of the Silver Bay Seafoods plant, according to sources. Other loans included $900,000 from the CBS, and private investors including 29 commercial fisherman, who donated a substantial chunk of change, sources state.

The total project cost wasn't provided; however, the dollar amount was quoted "multimillion."

The plant, specializing in high volume processing and freezing, focuses primarily on pink as well as chum salmon; they also process sockeye and coho. Sold to domestic, European and Asian markets, employees will head, gut and freeze salmon. Concerning other types of seafood processing in the future, it will be a business decision, he said. The salmon is sold in numerous product forms such as salmon in a pouch and boneless and skinless fillets. All salmon comes with the label of "wild-caught salmon," Riggs said.

Volume output depends entirely on the availability and the resource. "We have the ability to put a high volume of product through the plant," he said.

The plant is 34,000 square feet with another 12,000 square feet for the bunking facility, which houses 148 workers.

"We started with an empty warehouse, and all of the construction took place on the ground here in Sitka," he said.

Inside the shell of the warehouse structure, is a two story building equipped with a commercial kitchen where they feed the workers.

"We provide room in board," Riggs said. "One thing that was complimented highly was the quality of the services provided."

Currently, the plant has provided approximately 160 jobs, he said. The seasonal work force varies from locals, people across the state and even as far away as Ohio.

Not only has the plant provided jobs, the building process gave Sitka the economic "buzz" needed.

"This project relied on local contractors. The actual construction (was) from the local community," he said.

All aspects were local contractors' fortes, ranging from electrical, framing to flooring.

"It was really neat for the Sitka economy (and) for the labor resources. Even the waterfront work was local contractors from top to bottom." Waterfront work included a fender pile, a floating dock and more.

Riggs, who is a life-long Sitkan, and has an engineering project, said he's never been engaged in such a dynamic and quickly placed project as Silver Bay Seafoods plant.

"It's really energizing especially considering the fact there was a long-time operation that was a cornerstone in Sitka, and when it (Alaska Pulp Corporation's Sitka pulp mill) closed in Sept. 1993, it reached the end of an era," he said.

I like to say the prospects going forward are Silver Bay, Riggs said.

"A lot of the people were coming through the plant and seeing the skilled labor force going in, and I think it brings back a lot of good memories," he said.

Looking at the secondary economic benefits from the governmental level, these are resources dollars that are coming from the raw fish tax, he said.

"Now these dollars are coming back to Sitka and currently go toward the Sitka harbor system and the Sitka general fund. The bottom line is they come back to the community."

As the short-term project is accomplished, they plan on fine-tuning policy aspects in the off-season. "For me it's been real rewarding (to be) part of something that's a long-term economic benefit for Sitka. I think it's a good thing for people that have a passion for fishing," Riggs said.