Judge orders fired plant manager to go

Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2004

ANCHORAGE (AP) A judge has ordered the manager of a troubled Bristol Bay fish-processing plant to leave his job.

Jeremy Oliver, principal owner of Wild Alaskan Seafoods Co., was hired to run the plant near Dillingham. But the company that bankrolled the venture said he mismanaged it to the brink of collapse. Then, Oliver refused to go after being fired.

Superior Court Judge Dan Hensley said he based his decision Tuesday to remove Oliver from the property mostly on a clause in a signed contract with Strategica Import-Export Financial Group that says the company can terminate him at any time for any reason.

Hensley also required Strategica to honor any contracts Oliver had entered into to sell the fish prior to his being fired. The company must post a $200,000 bond to cover any damages he might suffer in the event that the Strategica's allegations of mismanagement ultimately are disproved.

Strategica will move quickly to try to salvage what it can from the operation this year as the season winds to an end, said Greg Miller, a Strategica attorney.

''He's been given his termination notice, and he needs to leave,'' Miller said at Tuesday's court hearing in Anchorage.

The Miami-based company put up the money to get a new seafood processing operation going in the old Ward's Cove cannery at Ekuk, about 30 miles south of Dillingham.

The plant recently was retooled and put to use as a head-and-gut processing operation, where sockeye salmon are beheaded, eviscerated and frozen.

Strategica claims Oliver grossly mismanaged the plant by not paying employees or fishers, allowing salmon to spoil and misappropriating funds. The company last Thursday faxed him a notice telling him he was fired, but he refused to leave, Miller said. Oliver also bullied Strategica's on-site representative away from the place with threats of violence, Miller said.

The company asked the court to evict Oliver, claiming that the business would collapse within a week were he to remain in charge, leaving employees and fishers unpaid and as much as 400,000 pounds of salmon to rot.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation already has barred the plant from selling any of the more than 1 million pounds of sockeye after investigators last week found that some of it was unfit for human consumption.

Oliver said some salmon had gone bad, but he blamed it on the company, claiming the company didn't come through with the $650,000 it had promised to cover the factory's payroll and operations.

Instead, they only provided him with $243,000, and the lack of funds meant he had no money to pay all the plant's employees, which numbered near 90 when it got started in June and has since waned to about 40, Oliver said.

''They starved our payroll, and that caused people to leave,'' Oliver said Tuesday.

Being short-handed, the plant couldn't get all the fish processed and frozen fast enough, which caused the spoiling problem, he said.

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