Trident Seafoods operates a processing facility near Akutan Village on Akutan Island, one of the Krenitzen Islands in the Fox Island group of the Eastern Aleutians, about 750 miles (1210 km) southwest of Anchorage and 36 miles (58 km) northeast of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Trident Seafoods is the largest seafood company in the United States and is based in Seattle, Washington. The company manages a network of fishing ships, processing plants, and a product distributorship that sells frozen, canned, smoked, and ready-to-eat seafood products under a variety of different brand names. The company has plants in Chignik, Cordova, False Pass, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Naknek, Petersburg, Sand Point, Saint Paul, and Wrangell. Trident’s Akutan shore processing facility is remote and entirely self-reliant. This is the largest seafood production facility in North America, and its location was chosen for proximity to the lucrative Bering Sea fishing grounds and to the village of Akutan. The facility operates all year and during the peak season, there may be more than 1,400 workers housed at the facility. The Akutan operation is capable of processing more than 3 million pounds of raw fish per day. Alaska pollock, the most abundant Bering Sea whitefish, is the primary focus of the Akutan operation, but the plant also processes Pacific cod, Alaska king and snow crab, and halibut. In addition to traditional seafood products, the plant also produces surimi and secondary products including pollock roe, fishmeal, and fish oil. The Aleut Unangan people of Akutan historically inhabited a village called Siskena which was located at the northeast corner of the mouth of Akutan Harbor. Unangan men hunted seals, whales, sea lions, sea otters, and sometimes walruses from baidarkas. The women gathered fish, birds, eggs, wild plants, and shellfish. The wild plants included berries, roots, and grasses used for weaving baskets. Russian occupation of the islands was focused on the maritime fur trade and this brought about large population displacements and cultural changes for the Unangan people. In 1878, the Western Fur & Trading Company established a fur storage and trading post at the present-day site of Akutan village. A Russian Orthodox Church and a school were built and within a year the village at Siskena and several villages on neighboring Akun Island moved to Akutan. The Unangan focused their fishing effort on salmon, herring, halibut, rockfish, Pacific cod, eulachon, and miscellaneous other nearshore fish and shellfish species, and pollock were only caught incidentally.
In 1929 and 1931, Japan sent a fishing trawler into the eastern Bering Sea to explore the resources available, including pollock and yellowfin sole. In 1933, the Japanese government sponsored a commercial venture to harvest pollock as a means to earn foreign currency. Fishing continued through 1937, with a fleet consisting of a mothership, three to five conventional catcher-trawlers, and as many as eight paired trawlers. In 1940, Japan fished again for pollock in the eastern Bering Sea to bolster domestic food supplies while the country waged war against China. In 1954, the Japanese returned to the eastern Bering Sea targeting yellowfin sole, Pacific ocean perch, and king crab. Beginning in the late 1950s, the Soviet Union dispatched a fleet of factory trawlers to the eastern Bering Sea. Each fleet consisted of several mother ships with each escorted by a pair of trawlers. The trawlers delivered fish to the motherships for processing, which were supported by additional refrigeration vessels. When the yellowfin sole and Pacific ocean perch were overfished, the Japanese then focused on pollock since it was an abundant species that provided high-quality surimi, and pollock quickly became the preferred fish of the surimi industry in Japan. By 1979, there were 150 land-based surimi processing facilities in Japan, as well as over 3,000 facilities that processed surimi into value-added products. The economies of scale provided by the large factory trawlers allowed the Japanese to capitalize on pollock harvests and accelerated the development of the Japanese factory trawler fleet. The Japanese fleet quickly grew from four factory trawlers in 1964 to 42 in 1972, making them pioneers in the pollock fishery. At that time, the territorial waters of the U.S. were 3 nautical miles (5.6 km) wide. Originally, this was the distance of a cannon shot, hence the portion of an ocean that a sovereign state could defend from shore. In the 1970s, with little ability to control the foreign fleets, there was concern that the resources in the Pacific would be depleted and pressure started to mount in the U.S. for extended boundaries. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska saw the potential for his state in expanding the fisheries management boundaries and became the principal proponent for legislation to extend America‘s jurisdiction from 3 miles (5.6 km) to 12 miles (19 km) offshore with an additional exclusive economic zone of 200 miles (322 km). He eventually obtained the support of Warren Magnuson of Washington State, a senior senator. With the foreign fleets harvesting billions of pounds of fish yearly in the eastern Bering Sea, it was natural for domestic fishermen to also advocate for the expanded boundaries and the corresponding expansion in their fishing opportunities. In 1976, the Fishery Conservation and Management Act was passed with two primary functions. First, it created a new standard of conservation and management within a fishery conservation zone of 200 miles (322 km) from the coast, and the second purpose was to encourage the revitalization of the U.S. fishing industry. The law also gave the U.S the right to regulate the use of all natural resources, including fish, oil, and minerals, within the coastal zone. It created eight regional fishery management councils to assist in managing the U.S. fisheries including whether foreign fishing fleets could have access to fish stocks that U.S. fishermen did not have the capacity to harvest. The regional council governing Alaska‘s fisheries, including the pollock fishery, is the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Agreements were reached with Taiwan and the Soviet Union in 1976 and with Japan, Korea, and Poland in 1977 allowing those fleets to continue fishing while the U.S fleet and industry were revitalized. However, instead of switching to pollock and other low-value species with unfamiliar international markets, domestic fishermen focused their effort on crab and other high-value fisheries with well-established domestic markets. Trawling for pollock and most other groundfish species was unfamiliar to U.S. fishermen. To encourage expansion of domestic fisheries in the eastern Bering Sea and elsewhere, a policy was enacted encouraging foreign nations to assist in the development of the U.S. seafood industry through joint venture purchases of fish harvested by U.S. flagged vessels and through investment in shore-based processing facilities. In 1981, Chuck Bundrant built a processing plant on Akutan Island on land leased from Akutan village, which is a federally recognized tribe under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. In 1992, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council created the Western Alaska Community Development Quota Program to provide western Alaska communities an opportunity to participate in the Bering Sea fisheries that had been foreclosed on them because of the high capital investment needed to enter the fishery. The program allocates a percentage of all Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands quotas for groundfish, halibut, and crab to eligible communities. The purpose of the program is to (1) provide villages with the opportunity to participate and invest in fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area, (2) support economic development in western Alaska, (3) alleviate poverty and provide economic and social benefits for residents of western Alaska, and (4) achieve sustainable and diversified local economies in western Alaska. In 1996, the village of Akutan was added to the list of western Alaska communities that are eligible to participate in the program. In 1998, the American Fisheries Act called for a reduction in the number of factory trawlers allowed in the Pacific, required 75 percent American ownership in companies operating out of Alaska, and created a quota system that gave individual fishing companies and smaller cooperatives allocations. The Akutan Catcher Vessel Association, a cooperative made up of Trident boats and boats selling their catch to Trident, was allocated more than 30 percent of the pollock not allocated to the trawlers. Read more here and here. Explore more of the Trident Seafoods Akutan facility here: