Trident Seafoods Corp. also agreed to invest more than $30 million in waste controls, including the construction of a plant to turn seafood waste into fish meal at Naknek, home of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.
The settlement addresses a perennial problem of what do to with fish heads, skin, guts and bones removed from Alaska’s massive seafood industry, which accounts for half of all wild fish caught in the United States.
Commercial fishermen in 2009 landed 1.8 million metric tons of fish in Alaska waters and more than half of that weight is not destined for the dinner table.
Some waste is turned into animal feed, but for processors working seasonally in remote Alaska locations, using waste for fish meal or fish oil has been a money loser. Seafood companies can instead obtain permits to grind waste and pipe it back into the ocean.
However, if done incorrectly, waste discharge can smother the ocean floor and the
creatures that live there. Seafood waste piles can stick around for a decade more, said Tara Martich, an EPA a pollution discharge compliance officer.
“Essentially what this pile consists of is this massive carpet of gelatinous goo and it suffocates sea life,” Martich said from Seattle at a press availability. “And so, as it’s doing that, it’s disrupting the entire ecosystem in that area, in some cases having effects outside the footprint, even, of the carpet and creating dead zones.”
Seafood processing waste in Akutan Harbor in the eastern Aleutian Islands is estimated to cover about 50 acres, or about 38 football fields, Martich said. The depth of the waste, from a thin layer to 10 or more feet, varied by location depending on what kind of waste was permitted.
An EPA complaint contends Trident, one of the world’s largest seafood processors with nearly 8,000 employees, had more than 480 Clean Water Act violations from 2005 to 2010 at 14 of its 18 on-shore and off-shore Alaska processing facilities.
In Kodiak, the complaint says Trident failed to submit reports on time, exceeded discharge limits, failed to conduct adequate tests, failed to develop a quality control plan and failed to follow a management plan.
In other Alaska locations, the EPA said Trident discharged waste without a necessary permit, exceeded discharge limits, failed to comply with restrictions on discharge locations and created oxygen-depleting “zones of deposit” that occupy more than the allowed 1 acre of seafloor. The Justice Department said the violations included discharges into at least two national wildlife refuges.
Joe Plesha, Trident’s chief legal officer, said in a prepared statement the violations were primarily monitoring and reporting requirements and came as a surprise.
“We were extremely upset when we learned that we were not completely in compliance with our discharge permits,” he said.
By phone from Unalaska, he said the company will improve its operations in Kodiak.
“We’re auditing how we report and monitor our activities in Kodiak to make sure we’re fully in compliance,” Plesha said.
Trident over the last decade had been part of four previous consent decrees and two administrative settlements, said Ed Kowalski, the EPA compliance director in Seattle. The latest is the largest.
“Defining it as inattention to detail may be a little off-base in this case,” he said.
However, he praised the company for cooperation and a creative solution that could be a transform how processing is done Alaska’s marine environment.
“The company did come to the table willing to work with us,” he said.
The Justice Department announcement said Trident will be required to invest $30 million to $40 million or more for source control and waste pile remediation. The Naknek fish meal plant will be able to process at least 30 million pounds of waste annually.
The Justice Department said Trident has also agreed to reduce waste at Akutan, Cordova, St. Paul and Ketchikan plants and to monitor discharges near Sitka. The agreement lists no requirements in Kodiak. The array of steps is projected to reduce Trident’s fish processing discharges by more than 105 million pounds annually.
The company pledged to study offshore waste piles at its plants and evaluate decomposition of piles at Akutan, Ketchikan and Cordova, and to remove or remediate the piles based on the studies. Options could include dredging or dispersal by raking, Martich said.
The settlement agreement was filed in federal court in Seattle. The public has 30 days to comment on the agreement.
Mirror editor James Brooks contributed to this report.