Dock expansion planned in Kenai

Posted: Sunday, April 11, 2004

A Kenai fish processor believes a major expansion at his Kenai River dock will enable his company to catch a new wave in the commercial fishing industry.

Dan Foley, president and owner of Pacific Star Fisheries, plans to rebuild his existing 600-foot steel dock in a way that will enable him to place seven new cranes along the Kenai River waterfront. According to Foley, the additional cranes will enable his company and others along the river to unload the Cook Inlet salmon catch much more quickly and easily than before.

Unloading salmon quickly has become a big deal in recent years, as the local commercial fishing industry has tried to make the jump into high-end domestic and international fish markets. Because salmon quality deteriorates with each minute a fish is left onboard a fishing vessel, time is everything.

"The old fishery is dead and gone," Foley said. "We are quickly moving toward this new fishery."

Foley thinks that by adding additional cranes, he'll have the ability to offload fishing boats as much as four times faster than he can now.

The increased dock space and crane capacity also will enable Foley to deliver ice more efficiently to the drift fishing fleet, which will allow them to better keep fish cool while on the water.

In addition to adding the cranes, Foley also wants to increase his processing capabilities to include space to produce more value-added products. Without adding additional space at his facility, Foley said he won't be able to keep up with the demand for high-quality products.

"There's so many problems without having the facility to custom process fishermen's fish," he said.

The city of Kenai owns the three existing cranes on the waterfront and leases them to fish processors. Foley said the addition of seven new cranes could enable the city to if it chose cut the cost associated with operating the existing cranes, while at the same time enable other processors to use his cranes.

Enabling other river processors to use the cranes falls in line with what Foley said is a new trend in the fishery that is moving away from competition with local processors and fishers and to a model that has everyone in the fishery working to a similar goal.

"It's really moving toward a more cooperative mentality," he said.

Adding the cranes and making dock improvements is another step in an ongoing overhaul of the Cook Inlet commercial fishery that is focusing on delivering more fresh, high-quality salmon as opposed to frozen or canned fish.

"There's still a tremendous opportunity and a great future in commercial fishing from the standpoint of the new generation in processing," Foley said.

Last year, the 3-year-old Kenai Wild salmon branding program processed 100,000 pounds of premium inlet salmon that was held to strict quality-control guidelines, and the program plans to process even more fish this season.

Foley said the ability to offload fish quickly is a necessity if inlet fishers want to continue making inroads into the premium salmon market. He said in order to supply the fish needed for Kenai Wild, processors need to increase how much fish they can produce.

"(Kenai Wild) can sell a lot more than we can produce," he said. "It's really a growing market."

Foley said he plans to have the necessary permits in place by summer, with the intention of starting work possibly as early as September. That plan is contingent upon Foley getting the necessary permits for the project, though he said he's hopeful that because the plan would help shore up the riverbank and improve the current dock, those permits will be fairly easy to get.

"I don't think we're going to run into too many (permitting) problems," he said.

In addition to the waterfront expansion, Foley's plans also call for a public-access viewing platform where tourists could watch as fish are offloaded from the boats, processed and prepared for sale.

"Retail goes hand-in-hand with tourism," he said.

Although there's little the city can do to help move the project along, Foley said he may need some help making improve-ments to his water and sewer facilities.

At this time, Foley told the city council all he's really looking for is support for the project something council members seemed happy to give.

Council member Jim Bookey said he believes adding facilities to help improve the quality of fish products that come into Kenai is something that is absolutely essential to ensuring the industry remains viable.

"It is the wave of the future for this fishery," Bookey said.

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