Sitka-based fish processor Silver Bay Seafoods has agreed to pay a $75,000 penalty for environmental violations at its plant in Valdez.
The penalty was levied by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, for improperly discharged fish waste in the Valdez harbor.
In 2013, the pipe carrying the plant’s fish waste was damaged, likely by a ship dragging its anchor across the harbor. The company replaced the pipe without DEC approval.
And while the original pipe had discharged waste at about 180 feet below the water’s surface, the new pipe was half as long and thought to be releasing waste at a depth of about 40 feet. That was already less than the 60 feet required by the plant’s permit — but a dive survey at the end of the 2014 season found the actual discharge level was only three feet deep.
Mike Solter is a compliance manager at the DEC. He explained the agency’s concern.
“When you start discharging in really shallow bits of water, what happens is you end up with really thick, serious waste pile sitting on the bottom,” Solter said. “[That] can actually smother the bottom, it can smother the sea life down there, and it can actually create dead zones.”
In this case, Solter said a small waste pile did build up on the seafloor, but it’s not clear what, if any, environmental impact it had.
The penalty is calculated based on the potential for environmental harm, as well as any economic benefit gained by not complying with the permit. Solter called the fine “pretty significant.” But he said it was reduced because of the company’s efforts to do better.
“They’ve actually hired a full-time environmental staff member,” he said. “And at this plant in particular, they’ve told us they’re working on plans to cut their amount of waste significantly, they’re going to start freezing it on-site and either hauling it to a landfill or taking it to be re-processed into other products.”
In a statement emailed to KCAW, Silver Bay CEO Rich Riggs wrote, “Silver Bay deeply regrets the circumstances that lead to this penalty and takes full responsibility for the incident. We understand the importance of being a good environmental steward and fully support the efforts of ADEC to protect the environment. We have and will continue to take affirmative steps to avoid any further incidents.”