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In wake of processing plant's closure, fishing continues in Adak

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman

Adak’s halibut arrives fresh in Boston faster than anywhere in the state of Alaska, according to a small boat fisherman who said it gets to the East Coast within five days.

“Nobody else in the state of Alaska can touch that,” said fisherman Steve Stark.

Even with the big Icicle plant’s surprise closure in April, commercial fishing continues on a smaller scale in Adak, according to Stark, captain of the 50-foot fishing boat Sellah which was in Unalaska early this week for supplies and repairs and halibut fishing in a different quota area.

They expected to make the 2.5-day trip back to Adak on Tuesday, and return to halibut fishing, doing almost everything, from catching the big flatfish on baited longline hooks, to packing them into 100 boxes and flying them to Boston on Alaska Airlines.

“Everything hinges on Alaska Airlines,” he said. By contrast, the industrial output of the former Icicle Seafoods plant, mostly cod, was frozen and shipped in refrigerated containers on barges owned by Samson Tug and Barge. 

Stark said he bought the little longliner and most of the former owner’s halibut quota from Mike Sharrah, who he said had been flying fish out of Adak for three years, including to the New Sagaya grocery store in Anchorage. 

Stark said he spent ten years fishing in Kodiak, on the Heritage and other boats.

Now he said he’s working for Canadian buyer Peter Hartman in Adak. 

Pete Hartman became interested in Adak after meeting local fisherman Mike Sharrah at the International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting in Canada earlier this year. Sharrah and Hartman started talking about buying fish from the F/V Selah; a deal was struck and Hartman now has a presence in Adak. Hart Sales Inc., based in Victoria, British Columbia, has operations in Norway, Chile, Canada and other parts of Alaska. The U.S. Hart Sales operations in Adak consists of buying fish directly from vessel owners, then distributing the seafood with the boat’s name on each box, according to Adak’s online newsletter, The Eagle’s Call. 

Hartman has sent certified scales, fiber board packing material, stickers, marketing supplies, and other items to make the operation work. He hopes to eventually hire a local beach crew, to work with local clerical support and shipment handling, so the vessel owner and crew will spend more time fishing rather than worrying about getting their product to market, according to the newsletter.

Hartman’s operations in B.C. include an office staff of 12, four of whom are working on Adak logistical and compliance issues. Hartman initially hoped to ship at least 150,000 pounds of local halibut. After hearing about Icicle’s departure he decided to try and double his shipments out of Adak. Hartman has successfully negotiated with the Aleut Corporation for space, the online newsletter stated on the city’s Facebook page.

Hartman bid $1.7 million to buy the equipment at the former Icicle plant last week, though the city of Adak was top bidder at $1.8 million, according to Clem Tillion of the Aleut Enterprise Corp.

Jim Paulin can be reached at paulinjim(at)yahoo.com