Trident Seafoods, a powerful force in the North Pacific fishing industry, is getting bigger.
This past week, the privately held company based in Ballard announced an agreement to acquire Starbound, a 300-foot catcher processor that harvests pollock in Alaska and whiting in the Pacific Northwest.
Starbound, which underwent a $46 million renovation and expansion in 2015, is currently owned by Seattle-based Aleutian Spray Fisheries and the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, which has rights to a portion of the North Pacific pollock harvest.
The Starbound crew processes pollock into frozen fillets within hours of when they are brought aboard in trawl nets. The vessel also produces fish meal and oil, some of which is used as a renewable fuel on board.
Along with the Starbound, Trident, in a sale expected to close this month, will acquire two smaller trawl boats, the F/V Ocean Harvester and the F/V Muir Milach, that also harvest pollock and whiting. The acquisition prices were not disclosed.
Trident, founded by the late Chuck Bundrant and now headed by his son Joe Bundrant, describes itself as the largest vertically integrated seafood harvesting company in North America.
“Modernizing our aging fleet of catcher processors has been a priority for some time. With this investment, we improve our efficiency and environmental performance,” said Joe Bundrant, Trident’s CEO, in a statement.
Pollock has long been an important part of Trident’s business. It is the biggest single-species catch off the nation’s coasts, and yields products that include surimi, a fish paste used in many simulated seafood products, and the fillets for fish burgers that are staples at McDonald’s fast-food outlets. Trident vessels catch and process pollock at sea, and the mild-tasting white fish also is a mainstay of a huge Trident shore-side processing plant at Akutan in the Aleutian Islands.
The overall pollock harvests have been relatively stable. But for 2023, the harvest would be cut by 19% to 1.1 million metric tons under a recommendation that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will consider next week, according to Jim Ianelli, a biologist with the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Pollock used to be caught in derby-style fisheries where boats raced to catch as much as they could before an overall harvest quota was reached. Under the American Fisheries Act passed in 1998, that era ended as harvest allocations were established, and cooperatives formed to net and process the fish in a longer time period that resulted in less waste.
The act restricts any individual or company from harvesting more than 17.5% of the pollock in any one year. After acquiring the three new vessels, Trident’s harvest shares would slightly exceed the cap. But the company plans to “align ownership interests with the cap level in 2022,” according to Stefanie Moreland, a Trident vice president, who said there will be time in the new year to “ensure compliance.”
Aleutian Spray, which co-owns the Starbound, was established in 1969 by Henry Swasand, a naval architect, and a third generation of Swasands is currently active in the company.