UniSea to pay $1.9 million for pollution in Dutch Harbor

Erika Bolstad

WASHINGTON -- One of Alaska's largest seafood processors, UniSea Inc., will pay $1.9 million in penalties and cleanup costs for discharging ammonia and other waste from its plant in Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian chain.

UniSea agreed to the fine to settle allegations that it violated federal and state environmental laws, U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said Wednesday in Anchorage.

Although the Justice Department couldn't say whether the fine is the largest ever levied against a seafood processor in Alaska, prosecutors consider it a sizable punishment.

"This is definitely an important case and a great result for the state of Alaska," said Kevin Feldis, the criminal division chief for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage. "It certainly sends an important message of deterrence and accountability for environment violations."

Beginning in 2005, the government said, UniSea discharged ammonia and other pollutants from its Dutch Harbor facility into surrounding waters.

It did so without a permit, in violation of the Clean Water Act, the Justice Department said. The company also admitted that it failed to notify authorities of two large releases of ammonia from its facility in December 2007, a violation of federal and state environmental reporting laws.

No one with the company was available for comment Wednesday.

Unisea is headquartered in Redmond, Wash., and owned by the Japanese company Nippon Suisan Kaisha. According to the company's website, its "Alaska operation consists of the state-of-the-art processing facilities, G1 and G2, in Dutch Harbor ... UniSea produces seafood products from Pollock, Pollock Roe, Pacific Cod, Black Cod, Snow Crab, King Crab, Halibut, Whitefish Meal, Fish Oil."

To comply with the settlement, UniSea also must survey the sea floor to determine the damage caused by the ammonia discharges. The testing, which the Environmental Protection Agency will oversee, will determine what kind and how much cleanup will be required. Cleanup will include the plant's underwater fish waste pile. UniSea also will be required to implement a comprehensive environmental compliance plan to prevent further violations.

Over a three-year period, the company released anhydrous ammonia as well as propylene glycol, unscreened seafood-processing wastewater, crab waste, stick water (a solution left over after fish are cooked and oil removed), fish meal and foam from its facility. That violated the terms of a 2003 EPA permit, the government said.

In December 2007, two ammonia releases from the plant totaled about 17,000 pounds. Industrial facilities are required to promptly report to the government any release over 100 pounds. The UniSea releases weren't reported until mid-January 2008, almost 13 months later.

In a previous agreement with the state of Alaska, UniSea employee Arthur Aliment pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of failing to report the release of a hazardous substance. Aliment was the UniSea worker responsible for reporting releases. He was sentenced in January to 45 days in jail with time suspended, a $7,500 fine with $3,750 suspended, 60 hours of community service and a year of probation.