Sealaska back in seafood business

Southeast Alaska’s regional Native corporation is back in the seafood business. Juneau-based Sealaska on Monday announced the purchase of a minority share of a Seattle processing plant.

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Independent Packers Corp. is a specialty plant that processes about 50 million pounds of seafood annually.

It’s the first of several investments the corporation plans to announce this year.

Sealaska Chief Operating Officer Terry Downes said it’s a successful enterprise insulated from some of the industry’s ups and downs.

“The reason we like the business is because it’s in the middle of the supply chain,” Downes said. “They touch a lot of different seafood companies. They never actually own the resource itself, so they’re not exposed to commodity price fluctuations. So the earnings are more stable.

Sealaska bought less than 50 percent of the processing company, but Downes said it will be a partnership. He said a confidentiality agreement prohibits him from releasing the amount invested or exact percent purchased.

He said it’s part of a corporate strategy adopted in 2012.

“In the past Sealaska had owned businesses at arm’s length, like plastics, injection molding and things like that,” Downes said. “They didn’t fit geographically and they didn’t fit with respect to the sector and they didn’t feel like business that really felt like part of Sealaska, in its ownership.”

Sealaska has bought and sold companies for years, looking for new sources of revenue. But not everyone supports that strategy.

Brad Fluetsch, a Juneau financial manager and Sealaska board candidate, said the purchases should stop. He’s not ready to address the latest investment. But he said the stock market is a better bet.

“Kavilko, the ANCSA corporation for the community of Kasaan, they have the right model,” Fluetsch said. “Just be a passive portfolio company. They don’t own any operating business.”

Independent Packers Corp. employs about 180 people.

Downes said its Seattle location puts it near thousands of Pacific Northwest shareholders. He hopes some find jobs there, but the investment agreement does not call for shareholder hire.

Other purchases are planned. Downes said the next to be announced will be part of Sealaska’s environmental services arm.

“It specializes in monitoring the ocean and it’s based in Alaska,” Downes said. “It has global capability, but it does a lot of work in Alaska.”

Sealaska has invested in fisheries before. There was Ocean Beauty Seafoods in the 1980s, but it was sold. More recently, the corporation put money into reopening Kake’s fish-processing plant. It’s also invested in oyster farming.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.

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