Seattle, Washington-headquartered Trident Seafoods has reported that four workers at its seafood processing plant on the remote island of Akutan in Alaska’s Aleutians have tested positive for Covid-19. One was airlifted to a hospital in Anchorage by the US Coast Guard due to breathing difficulties, while the others have been quarantined.
While this is the first such incident to occur at a Trident facility in Alaska, a non-affiliated seafood processing plant operating 35 miles southwest in Unalaska reported a number of coronavirus infections recently.
Meanwhile, as the winter Pollock “A” fishing season in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska (which accounts for 45% of the annual quota for Alaska Pollock in US waters) is about to begin in late January and run through April, Trident is busy contract tracing and focusing on other employees who may have been infected. The company currently has approximately 700 workers in Akutan, with another 365 or so processing staff set to travel to the plant following two weeks of mandatory pre-work quarantine.
According to a KUCB Radio Alaska Nightly News report on January 18: “Aleutian Island seafood processors were largely successful in keeping the virus out of their onshore plants last year. But that’s proven to be more of a challenge as companies fly in workers for the upcoming season, with the coronavirus much more widespread across the Lower 48. All four of the newly-infected Trident workers had tested negative just two weeks earlier, after a 14-day quarantine in Anchorage.”
Trident has had Covid-19 mitigation measures in place since March of last year. In addition to two-week quarantines, employees must adhere to strict sanitation practices, use issued personal protective equipment, and are subject to ongoing testing.
“Health and safety are our absolute priority,” said Trident CEO Joe Bundrant. “We have said from the beginning of this pandemic that if we have an issue, we’re going to shed a light on it. We want to be sure people are aware and know that we are taking this very seriously.”
Stephanie Moreland, the company’s vice president of government relations and seafood sustainability added: “We have notified the State of Alaska, the City of Akutan and our medical partners and are coordinating with all to conduct further tests, implement protocols and contain exposure. Next actions may include extensive testing and isolation for those who are at most risk.”
Located 750 miles southwest of Anchorage in Alaska’s Aleutian Chain, Trident’s Akutan shore plant is remote and entirely self-reliant. Its proximity to the Bering Sea fishing grounds has helped it become the largest seafood production facility in North America.
With more than 1,400 company-housed employees during peak seasons, Akutan sustains a year-round, multi-species frozen seafood operation capable of processing more than 3 million pounds of raw fish per day. Wild Alaska pollock, the Bering Sea’s most abundant whitefish, is the primary focus of the Akutan operation. The plant also processes significant volumes of Pacific cod, Alaska king and snow crab, halibut and other species.
In addition to traditional boxed and frozen seafood items, the facility has increased its capacity to produce surimi and recover large volumes of secondary products including pollock roe, fishmeal, fish oil, and other specialty products that contribute to Trident’s goal of fully utilizing every part of every fish delivered.
The Akutan plant is one of 11 primary processing operations and critical fleet support services maintained by Trident Seafoods along thousands of miles of rugged Alaska coastline from Ketchikan to Kodiak and from Sand Point to St. Paul.