Peter Pan's King Cove plant will stay closed this winter as fishing industry turmoil spreads
In a major hit to Southwest Alaska’s fishing industry, Peter Pan Seafood Co. will keep its huge plant in the village of King Cove shuttered this winter, meaning that the company won’t be processing millions of dollars worth of cod, whitefish and crab.
“It's one of the most difficult days of my life,” Rodger May, one of the company’s owners and a longtime player in the seafood industry, said in a brief interview Thursday. “It's just a devastating time for the industry.”
The closure is the latest sign of the widening turmoil in Alaska seafood markets, which are contending with depressed global demand across many different species and intense competition from producers in Russia.
Last month, one of the industry’s biggest processors, Trident Seafoods, said it would sell off four of its plants amid a restructuring, and over the summer, salmon fishermen in Bristol Bay staged a floating protest of historically low prices offered for their catch.
“You can't keep on going to work producing product and selling it at a loss,” May said, adding that his company remains “asset rich” and is not close to declaring bankruptcy.
Peter Pan first informed local officials Thursday about the closure in King Cove, where its plant contributes some $2 million in yearly fish tax revenue for the community of 850 people.
The winter months that the plant will stay closed typically generate roughly one-third of that revenue, said Gary Hennigh, King Cove’s city administrator.
May worked with two investment firms — including Anchorage-based McKinley Capital Management, which was using money from Alaska’s state-owned Permanent Fund — acquired Peter Pan in 2021 and made a splash in the industry by offering fishermen high prices for their catch.
But as the industry ran into trouble this year, signs of instability at the processing company had been popping up for months.
An array of fishermen and companies filed liens against the processor last year for unpaid deliveries of seafood, including, in December, one of the stars of the Deadliest Catch reality show.
Erik Velsko, a fishermen from Homer who delivered cod to Peter Pan last year, said his payments were months late, and he plans to fish for Trident this winter instead. Other fishermen and boats, however, may not be able to find another processor to buy their catch.
“Trident, they can’t just take every boat,” Velsko said Thursday. “I think there are a lot of boats that don’t have markets.”