Wards Cove hires firm to sell plants

Posted: Wednesday, December 18, 2002

KETCHIKAN (AP) -- Wards Cove Packing Co. has hired an investment-banking firm to sell the nine seafood processing plants it owns in Alaska, including two in Ketchikan.

The company's announcement last week that it is leaving the salmon business after more than 70 years has shaken the fishing industry, raising questions about the future of the commercial salmon fisheries across Alaska.

Wards Cove has hired the Seattle firm of Zachary Scott & Co. to help sell the Alaska plants, which include the Wards Cove cannery and E.C. Phillips & Son facilities in the Ketchikan area.

''We will be working with Wards Cove to help them find buyers,'' said Michael Newsome, a Zachary Scott principal. Newsome declined to outline a sales strategy.

Dave Forbush Sr. of Wards Cove said Friday that the company has had some inquiries on certain facilities, but he did not go into further detail.

According to Ketchikan Gateway Borough records, Wards Cove owns about 70 acres at Ward Cove in several waterfront, tideland and upland parcels. The property's total assessed value is about $2.83 million.

The E.C. Phillips holdings include about six acres along the waterfront in the city of Ketchikan, according to borough records. The assessed value of those properties is about $5.67 million.

Although Wards Cove announced it's leaving the salmon business immediately, the E.C. Phillips plant, which processes other species and also has a cold storage with a capacity of 2.5 million pounds, will not close right away. E.C. Phillips will make purchases from fishermen through Dec. 31, according to company officials.

''We'll finish out what we committed to,'' Forbush said.

Company officials said it will take an unspecified amount of time to close out the plant.

''We've still got fish in the freezer,'' said Mike Cusack, assistant superintendent at E.C. Phillips. ''You don't just turn out the lights. There will be an orderly wind-down.

The E.C. Phillips facility employs between 30 and 50 people year-round. It employs about 210 workers at the peak of the salmon season, according to Wards Cove information. The Wards Cove cannery employed about 200 people at the seasons peak.

The new administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski is considering its response to the Wards Cove announcement. John Manly, Murkowski's transition spokesman, said the state departments of Community and Economic Development, Labor, and Fish and Game have met with the administration.

Manly described the gathering as a preliminary scoping meeting to find out the size of the problem and what programs and services the state has to address the problem.

One effect of the closures that directly hits municipal coffers is the states fisheries business tax. Boroughs and cities receive a portion of the tax, paid by processors and based on the price processors pay fishermen for their catch.

In 2002, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough received about $374,000, according to state records. The city of Ketchikan received about $276,000.

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