New workers this summer at the Goodnews Bay processing plant in Platinum will earn what’s believed to the highest starting processing wage in the state. Coastal Villages Seafood will pay 10 dollars an hour for new employees. That’s up from 9 dollar an hour new workers have started at over the past 4 years. In boosting the wages, the company points to success in the CDQ’s Bering Sea catch as well as local improvements in processing efficiency. Dawson Hoover is the Communications Coordinator for Coastal Villages Regional Fund.
Hoover said, "We're also getting a good handful of people coming back year after year. It makes sense to give them an increase in wages."
90 percent of Coastal Villages’ local employees are Alaska residents, compared to about 20 percent across the industry statewide. The company last year hired 304 Alaskans, with 275 coming from the 20 Coastal Villages communities. Other employees came from Bristol Bay, the Kuskokwim region, and Norton Sound.
Fisherman should also see a bigger paycheck this summer. Coast Villages will pay a dollar per pound for all salmon species, up from 85 cents last year. Hoover compares this to prices in the '90s before the company began buying fish.
"We're talking 5 cents a pound for chum, 25 cents pound for kings way back in the '90s. This will be our 15th year buying salmon. For us to buy a dollar per pound for all species is a nice benefit for our residents," said Hoover.
The Goodnews Bay plant provides jobs and a high capacity buyer, but it’s still far from financial sustainability, said Hoover.
"Every year we've been running in the red. We've never made a profit off our salmon fisherman. We've never made a profit off of our halibut fisherman. For every pound we buy we lose money. The only reason we're able to continuously provide this now and into the future is because of our earning in the Bering Sea with pollock, crab, and cod. We've been running in the red by the millions of dollars every year, because of the low volume, high transportation costs, because of the the high wages we pay for work that's getting better. The quality is getting better, the fisherman are getting better at delivering their catch. But we're always going to face those transportation costs, the volume costs compared to the rest of the state."
The plant sells frozen filets as well as headed and gutted fish. Hoover says future infrastructure improvements could expand the product line.
"We did acquire some land in Platinum to help the state extend the runway, so we can start to add fresh products to the market, we could fly them out. Right now everything that comes out of the region is barged," said Hoover.
The 40 million dollar plant opened in 2009. Coastal Villages represents 9,000 residents of communities from Scammon Bay to Platinum.