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Trident Seafoods Storied Founder Chuck Bundrant Passes Away at 79

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Chuck Bundrant, founder and chairman of Trident Seafoods, died at his home in Edmonds, Washington on October 17. The 79-year-old billionaire and titan of the Alaska commercial fishing and seafood processing industries, who struggled with an incurable degenerative disease for over a decade, was surrounded by family members and friends at the time of his passing.

Regarded by many as the architect of Alaska’s modern seafood business, Bundrant got his sea legs in 1961, when as a 19-year-old teenager he dropped out of college in Tennessee and drove an old Ford Station Wagon from his hometown of Evansville, Indiana, to Seattle, in search of adventure and fortune. For the next 12 years he boarded any ship he could find, learning everything there is to know about fishing and crabbing along the way.

Bundrant met two other like minded crab fishermen in the early 1970s, Kaare Ness and Mike Jacobson. All three pooled their money together and built the Billikin—a 135-foot boat that not only changed the course of their partnership, but also changed the course of the entire seafood industry. The Billikin was the first vessel of its kind to feature onboard crab cookers and freezing equipment, so their fresh catch could be processed as soon as it was pulled out of the water instead of after being landed at shore.

Soon after, the pioneering partnership expanded once more when the three fishermen joined with Edd Perry and his Bellingham, Washington-based company San Juan Seafoods. Now they had all the resources they needed to match their ambitions.

Chuck Bundant in the wheelhouse of his very first fishing vessel, the Addington.

Under Bundrant’s leadership at the helm as chief executive officer, which was passed on to his son, Joe, more than a decade ago, Trident Seafoods became the largest vertically-integrated seafood enterprise in North America, reportedly generating several billion dollars of sales annually. It catches and processes wild Alaska salmon, cod, crab and pollock, and distributes a wide selection of fish and shellfish products to retail and foodservice customers.

The company employs approximately 9,000 people and operates a fleet of more than 40 vessels, including floating processors, catcher-processors, tenders and freighters. Its onshore facilities include 11 processing plants in Alaska, three in Washington State, and one each in Minnesota and Georgia.

The private, family-owned business that Chuck built does not report to investment bankers, but answers only to its customers, fishermen, and employees.

Upon learning of the passing of the storied founder of Trident Seafoods, John Connelly, president of the McLean, Virginia-headquartered National Fisheries Institute, issued the following statement:

“Chuck Bundrant was a man of contrasts:  A young man from southern Indiana who partnered with a Norwegian to build a seafood company spanning the globe; a dreamer who took a 130-foot boat and from it built an enterprise that included reshaping a mountain to build a fish processing plant that fed millions of families, and; a man of few words, but who, when he did speak through that gravelly voice, was listened to from Cordova to Capitol Hill.

“Those that knew him well will relay the stories of his fierce competitiveness in building Trident Seafoods. But the same competitors will share the stories of Chuck flying a helicopter to bring to safety and medical care crew members from a stranded competitor’s boat.  And they are likely to remind us all of the special attention Chuck paid to the communities in Alaska in which he built or operated his seafood plants.

“Few women or men can know that they bettered the lives of thousands of people, by creating livelihoods for families around the world. Chuck Bundrant could say that.

NFI sends its prayers to the fishermen that Chuck Bundrant reminded us the seafood community starts with, to the full Trident family, the gentle men that cared for him, and to Diane, Joe, Jill, and Julie and their spouses and children. May they be comforted knowing that Chuck Bundrant shaped so many lives for the better.”

The helm at Trident Seafoods is in good hands, as Chuck Bundrant passed chief executive officer responsibilities to son Joe in 2013.

Trident Seafood posted an obituary at its website on October 19 entitled “The Passing of an Alaska Seafood Legend.” It read, in part”

While Chuck is remembered for his shrewd business skills, toughness and determination, his generosity and belief in others were equally recognized and key to his success. Every business partner, fisherman, community leader, supplier, customer, employee and competitor was personally important to Chuck. His love for the state of Alaska, his loyal independent fishermen, his employees and customers around the world was evident to all. To him they were all extended family, and that spirit infuses the people of Trident who will carry on his legacy of servant leadership.

“Chuck had a unique ability to motivate success with a combination of high support and high expectations. ‘I find I get a lot out of people when I push them,’  he used to say with a smile. But he was never immune to his own tough love. He pushed himself harder than anyone else and was always the first to show up if others needed help.

“A devout Christian, Chuck’s faith in God wove through the fabric of his life, binding together his family, his community and his company. One manifestation of that is Safe Harbor Church, which Chuck, with his partner Kaare Ness, built 25 years ago between Trident’s largest, most remote processing location and its neighboring village of Akutan, in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

“Chuck will be remembered for his genuine desire to forge a sustainable Alaska seafood industry that benefits all stakeholders. Chuck led and invested in a lasting future for North Pacific fisheries resources. His processing innovations will drive improvements for generations. He made many sacrifices to create opportunity for his family. He risked everything early on to nurture a stronger seafood industry in Alaska and to solidify the reputation of one of the largest seafood companies in the world.

“Thanks to Chuck’s foresight, Trident’s path forward is solid. Chuck’s son, Joe, became Trident’s CEO in 2013. The family and business have prioritized succession planning to safeguard the Trident brand and secure its continuity for future generations. Joe and the rest of the Trident leadership are committed to honoring Chuck’s legacy and building on the incredible company he founded.”