“Take a deep breath. What do you smell?” Vicki Walker asked the crowd at the grand opening of BC Fisheries’ seafood processing plant. “That’s the smell of money.”
The comment by Walker, state director of USDA Rural Development, echoed the statements of many others at the event at the Port of Brookings Harbor: the new plant is a sign of economic prosperity ahead for the South Coast.
The processing plant, owned by Mike and Z Manning of BC Fisheries, currently processes Oregon pink shrimp. Plans for the facility have been in the works for about three years, and construction on the building began early this year. The construction was done by local company Dave Hoover Construction, and employed about 15 people. Now that the plant is operational, it has created more than 30 jobs locally.
Several dignitaries spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning — representatives of the port, state officials and financial partners who helped fund the project — and all agreed that the plant is a stepping stone to even more economic opportunities for the area.
“The importance of access for Oregon rural economies is big — access to talent, resources, infrastructure,” said Chris Harder, director of Business Oregon. “Rural markets, at all costs, must avoid creating isolated communities. BC Fisheries is providing better access to global channels, creating quality jobs here on the South Coast. We’re excited for the economic impact BC Fisheries will have here.”
Speakers included executives from Craft3, Petros Partners, Capital One, Business Oregon and USDA Rural Development — all financial partners or lenders involved in funding construction of the plant — and state legislators Wayne Krieger and Jeff Kruse.
Mike Manning thanked all the people involved with making the plant a reality, and said he felt the plant’s opening signals revitalization of the area.
“There’s going to be a lot more stuff going on, more development,” he said. “We’re working with our leaders here, and they all have different roles, but they put all their differences aside and made this happen.”
After the ribbon-cutting, plant employees gave tours of the facility, which has been in operation since the spring.
“So far, the shrimp we’ve processed has been local,” said Z Manning. “The farthest we’ve gone is Morro Bay, but otherwise it’s been local boats.” The shrimp being processed the day of the grand opening was caught at Cape Sebastian, she said.
She said they plan to expand their scope, processing shrimp from other areas.
The shrimp go through several steps before they are bagged and sent out for sale. They are cleaned, and the solid waste is sent to tree farms or ranches to be used in fertilizer. The shrimp sit in salt overnight which causes them to expand and break their shells, and are then rinsed three times. They are cooked at a minimum of 174 degrees.
“The cook temperature is really critical,” Manning said. “It’s the kill process for listeria.”
The cooker, called a “cool steam cooker,” is one of the new pieces of equipment unique to the plant.
“This is ultimately what gives us our superior product,” Manning said. “You don’t have to overcook the shrimp.”
The shrimp are then chilled, and then put through peelers, which remove the shells and legs of the shrimp. They are then put through air blowers, and then through a machine which uses lasers and cameras to sort through the shrimp and determine which ones are ready for the inspection belt. People sort through the shrimp as they come down the conveyer belt, and remove any unwanted pieces.
“This is really the only time we handle the shrimp,” Manning said.
The shrimp are then cryogenically frozen, and packaged using an automatic bagger.
If operational around the clock, plant employees estimated they could process 100,000 pounds in a 24 hour period.
“Of course, that’s with no hiccups, and (if it was) processing 24 hours a day,” said Matt Ellingson, the optimization technician from Laitram Machinery, the company that built the processing equipment.
“We try to process 1,400 pounds per peeler — but we have to constantly adjust the machines from hour to hour. And the shrimp can change — they may be older or caught later.”
State Senator Jeff Kruse praised the plant, and said he looked forward to the next steps forward for the South Coast.
“This is phase one of what we’ll be able to do together to make this a vibrant economic base for the southern Oregon coast,” he said.”