A driftnet fisher and setnet fisher are in the final stages of leasing the former Dragnet cannery in Kenai and plan to turn it into a profit-sharing seafood processor that will handle a large portion of value-added fish, including Kenai Wild brand salmon.
Michael Johnson, the drifter, and another fisher who declined to be named will be the co-owners of Alaska Wild Distributors, the new processor.
"The fishermen are going to get more for their fish," Johnson said.
Jack Brown, business development manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said the profit sharing arrangement is unique. To his knowledge, there are no other processors on the peninsula who share profits with the fishers. Brown played a role in helping Johnson and his partner make business contacts and helped them establish their new business, Johnson said.
Mark Powell, former president of Cook Inlet Salmon Brand Inc., owner of the Kenai Wild brand, said this new processor is exciting because it gives the brand the capacity to produce more as the market for the product expands.
Johnson said the market for salmon is getting stronger worldwide. This will give Cook Inlet fishers more options for what to do with their fish, he said.
The new processor already has orders to fill and plans to operate this summer, he said, adding that the company would like to process 8 million pounds of fish this summer. Johnson said the processor will employ between 100 and 160 people.
Fishers also will have the option to have their fish custom processed if they wish to market their product on their own, he said.
Johnson started a company in Beijing last year called United Johnson Corporation, a company aimed at selling Alaska wild salmon in China. But he said there were difficulties getting enough fish to meet the demands of his customers. So he decided to start this new processor to fulfill that need, he said. In addition, the processor will sell to domestic markets, he said.
Sylvia Beaudoin, executive director of CISB, said for the most part, China is an untapped market for Alaska fish.
Beaudoin said this is an indicator that seafood processing is making a return to the Kenai Peninsula. Twelve processors have left the area since 1992, she said. The new processor will help show people that it is worth making capital investments in the area, she said.
"You have a drifter and a setnetter coming together for the good of the resource," she said.
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