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Seafood processor fined $2.5 million over Alaska 'dead zones'

  • Author: Amanda Coyne
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published September 28, 2011

One of the largest seafood processors in Alaska, Trident Seafoods Corp., has agreed to pay a $2.5 million fine to settle 485 violations of the Clean Water Act in Alaska and invest up to $40 million in waste pile remediation. It's the biggest Clean Water Act fine that any processing company has faced in Alaska. The public will have 30 days to comment on the settlement, after which a federal judge must approve it.

The fine, levied by the EPA and the Justice Department, was for violations beginning to be investigated prior to 2008, when the EPA ceded its authority to monitor such waste to the Alaska State Department of Environmental Conservation. All the violations took place between 2005 and 2010 and involved multiple infractions, including the unauthorized discharge of seafood processing waste from Trident's onshore and offshore processing plants. Trident has 14 such plants in Alaska. The waste includes fish heads, skin and bone which are ground up and then dumped. Only about 35 percent of a salmon ends up on a plate.

Ed Kowalski, EPA's director of the office of compliance and enforcement in the region, said in a conference call on Wednesday that the agreement is an opportunity for the state and processing industry to work together to protect Alaska waters. "This is the start of a much larger effort," he said.

Mike LeVine with Oceana, an environmental group focusing on the world's oceans, welcomed the settlement. "We have clean air and clean water in Alaska and we're glad to see the EPA doing its job to protect those vital resources," he said

Trident has received at least six other enforcement actions throughout the years, which apparently didn't result in systemic change in the way the company handles its waste. This time, however, the EPA has "gotten the company's attention," Kowalski said. "We've seen a different Trident at the table this time," he said.

Sharon Morgan, manager of DEC's waste water discharge authorization program, said that since the state took over Clean Water Act investigation and enforcement, it has not fined a fish processing plant. Trident did not return a call requesting comment.

Currently, the fish waste from Trident's plants is pumped onto the seafloor anywhere from 60 to 100 feet from the plant, where it creates what Tara Martich from the EPA described in the conference call as "massive carpets of gelatinous goo." Such carpets suffocate sea life and create "dead zones" on the ocean floor. One such pile in Akutan Harbor in the Aleutians is about 50 acres, roughly 38 football fields, Martich said. It's a pile that has existed for probably 20 years, and is added to every season. At its deepest, it's anywhere from 10 to 20 feet and thins as it spreads.

As part of the agreement, Trident must reduce the size of that particular massive carpet of goo to no more than 25 acres by Dec. 31, 2017; and not more than 5 acres by Dec. 31, 2022, according to court documents.

Among other things, Trident has agreed to build a fish meal plant in the Bristol Bay town of Naknek, which the EPA says will be able to handle 30 million pounds of fish waste. The Trident plant there produces about 7 million pounds of waste a year. Kowalski said that the additional space could be used by other fish processors. The plant must be built by 2015. In the meantime, Trident will continue to dump its waste on the ocean floor.

Trident has also agreed to reduce its fish waste in Akutan, Cordova, St. Paul, and Ketchikan, and will monitor waste in Starrigavan Bay and Sitka.

All the activities will reduce the discharges by more than 105 million pounds a year, Kowalski said.

Alaska is the only state where onshore processors dump the waste directly onto the ocean floor, Martich said. Because of its remote location, Alaska processors have been able to skirt regulations that processors in other states must abide by.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com

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