Valdez fish plant faces fine

Posted: Friday, December 20, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Valdez seafood plant is facing a fine of $137,000 for alleged illegal dumping. The Environmental Protection Agency has filed a complaint against Nautilus Foods, based in Bellevue, Wash.

The company's owner, Thomas Waterer, said he was shocked by the allegations.

Waterer's plant in Valdez committed numerous pollution violations, according to the EPA, including bypassing a waste-handling system and dumping fish guts, blood and slime directly into the sea.

Nautilus has allowed fish waste to pile up on an area of nearly an acre and a half, exceeding the allowed limit by almost half, the complaint said.

The EPA also says the company failed to monitor discharges, failed to conduct shoreline surveys, failed to fix a leaky outfall pipe, didn't monitor grinders and failed to have its permit on site, among other things.

Bub Loiselle, EPA's water-quality compliance manager for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, said Nautilus is a chronic, gross violator of its federal pollution discharge permit.

Waterer has had many warnings and has failed to correct the problems, the EPA says in its complaint. The EPA filed a similar complaint against Nautilus in 1992 and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation also issued violation notices before that, the agency contends.

Waterer said he's not aware of any prior violations.

''We're a small business. We're just trying to make a living. We're a good, responsible fish processor. Our employees are paid well. With this level of fine, they could shut us down.''

Nautilus employs about 200 people during peak fishing season, Waterer said. It processes up to 10 million pounds of salmon and halibut every year. About a quarter of that winds up as waste.

The action against Nautilus is part of an aggressive crackdown by the EPA on fish processors. While ocean tides can disperse fish waste, excessive amounts of the slimy gunk can smother marine life and smell bad, according to the agency.

Several processors in Alaska have been slapped with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines in recent years.

Last month, the EPA and Trident Seafoods settled pollution violations at the Seattle-based company's plants at Ketchikan and Akutan Island. The company agreed to pay $96,000 in fines, clean up waste piles, and send future waste to fish meal plants or put it on barges for disposal at sea.

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