Greater Commercial Lending (GCL), which provides loans to businesses and organizations in under-served and rural communities, has completed $40 million in financing for an innovative salmon processing barge in Bristol Bay, Alaska, that will flash-freeze whole salmon right at the fishing grounds. The loan is guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program.
Northline Seafoods’ proprietary system for just-caught whole salmon will eliminate multiple days of transport, fuel usage, excess waste and lost product quality, as compared to traditional processing. Bristol Bay is home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.
“Bristol Bay is a challenging place to operate, since the entire salmon run occurs over only a few short weeks each summer. The traditional salmon industry has developed around large, shore-based processing facilities that are operated in brief, expensive seasonal periods. Salmon often spend multiple days in transit before being delivered to the processing facilities. High shipping costs outweigh the market value of salmon byproducts, and facilities may dump up to 30% of salmon weight back into the ocean ecosystem as waste,” said Ben Blakey, CEO of Northline Seafoods.
“Northline Seafoods and other pioneering projects are integral to solving real-world problems and addressing food security in the U.S. An added benefit is how they also promote sustainable and environmentally friendly food systems. GCL is proud to support these projects by providing access to low cost and long-term financing solutions through government-guaranteed loans,” said Jeremy Gilpin, executive vice president at GCL, one of the largest providers of USDA loans. GCL is a subsidiary of Greater Nevada Credit Union, a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).
With the “Hannah,” Northline Seafoods’ processing barge, local fishing vessels will deliver their salmon harvest directly to the processing facility. The fish will then be frozen whole immediately aboard the barge with advanced ultra-low-temperature refrigeration technology. After the fishing season is complete, Northline Seafoods will thaw and reprocess the salmon in Washington State throughout the fall and winter, allowing them to utilize 100% of the salmon through access to byproducts markets.
“The Bristol Bay, Alaska, salmon fishery is a treasure but current processing methods yield poorer results at an inflated cost. We believe our model is better, and, with the help of the USDA-guaranteed loan packaged by GCL, an enduring resource will receive the care that it deserves,” said Blakey. “We love this industry and our Alaskan community. With the participation of the USDA and GCL, we can make both better.”
The “Hannah” will support about 46 full-time, year-round jobs in Alaska and Washington. Work in the salmon fishing industry is traditionally part-time or seasonal, so Northline Seafood’s innovative model will provide regular employment and economic predictability for local communities.