Jobs at the modern seafood processing plant in the Port of Brookings Harbor were among the casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $9.6 million plant built by BC Fisheries LLC in 2016 closed earlier this year, leaving 30-some people without jobs and 15 local shrimp trawlers without convenient access to a buyer.
But recently the Clackamas-based Pacific Seafood — which is one of the largest seafood companies in North America — took over the lease and reopened the plant to begin processing shrimp — at least for the remainder of the season.
Yelena Nowak of the Brookings-based Oregon Trawl Commission applauded the company’s action.
"Part of the mission of the Oregon Trawl Commission is to increase opportunities to ensure a sustainable and profitable trawl fishing industry," Nowak said. “It’s in this spirit that we would like to recognize and thank the Port of Brookings, the state Department of Environmental Quality, Pacific Seafood and the State of Oregon for their efforts to ensure that 15 local shrimp trawlers have a buyer and processor here in our community.”
Nowak said the company's decision to reopen the shuttered facility not only supports local fishermen but also 34 local jobs that would have otherwise been lost.
Pacific Seafood General Manager Rick Harris also expressed appreciation to all concerned.
“We want to thank the Port of Brookings, DEQ, and the state of Oregon for their tremendous partnership in getting the plant up and running quickly,” he said. “To the returning employees from BC Fisheries, your leadership has been instrumental in re-opening the plant and ensuring 34 local jobs were saved. We are proud to be part of such an industrious and supportive community.”
A spokesperson for Pacific Seafood said the company has agreed to lease and operate the facility for the balance of the 2020 shrimp season in order to preserve markets for the independent commercial fishing fleet in this area, but is still evaluating the company's ability to continue operating there in future years.
Among the concerns is compliance with environmental standards.
"BC Fisheries did not maintain current permit coverage for the discharge associated with its processing operations," the spokesperson said. “DEQ partnered with us to temporarily authorize discharge while a more robust environmental analysis takes place this fall. Pacific Seafood would not have been able to re-open the facility without DEQ’s active and continuing partnership.”
The plant reopened on July 20 and hopes to process three to five million pounds of shrimp through the end of the season in October. According to the spokesperson, many employees and management team members from BC Fishers were welcomed back to jobs at the plant.
Pacific Seafood also is operating the nearby ice house to ensure that local fisherman have access to the materials they need to continue to fish out of Brookings, the company spokesperson said.
COVID-19 has been a concern at other Pacific Seafood operations, requiring temporary suspension of processing during multiple outbreaks in other locations.
"COVID-19 has caused new and continuing challenges for all businesses,” the spokesperson said. “Pacific Seafood maintains robust protocols at all facilities to ensure the continuing safety of our team members, families, customers, and communities, including heightened cleaning and sanitation procedures, health screening stations, social distancing protocols, cloth face coverings for all team members, and other similar items.”
Longer-term issues for operating the plant were among the items discussed by port officials Wednesday in a meeting with Rep. Peter DeFazio, which included a Pacific Seafood representative via teleconference.
"Commercial fishing is tremendously important to Oregon’s coastal communities,” the Pacific Seafood spokesperson said, “and often ranks among the highest local contributors to net earnings. We’re extremely proud to be able to support the local fishing fleet by operating during the 2020 season, and look forward to continuing conversations with our local partners about the future.”