While news outlets have reported that Ocean Beauty Seafoods is in talks to merge with Canadian seafood company Cooke Aquaculture Inc., this will not impact the operation of Ocean Beauty’s Excursion Inlet plant during the 2020 season, said Mike Forbush, senior Alaska operations manager for Ocean Beauty.

Forbush said he could not comment on acquisition rumors but said that Ocean Beauty has no plans to close the Excursion Inlet plant. The company “has been putting money into the plant,” he said, listing projects including expansion of the plant’s refrigeration capacity, general upkeep on buildings, and work on the dock as recent as this past year.

Seafood industry news outlets including Intrafish and Undercurrent News have been covering acquisition talks between Cooke and Ocean Beauty since last summer, largely based on information from anonymous sources as the companies have declined to comment.

According to reports, Cooke is interested in acquiring Ocean Beauty, adding to its Alaska salmon business. Ocean Beauty has facilities in Alaska locations including Naknek, Alitak, Kodiak, Cordova and Excursion Inlet. In 2016, Cooke purchased Alaska seafood processor Icicle Seafoods which has shore-based processing facilities in Petersburg, Seward, Egegik in Bristol Bay, Larsen Bay on Kodiak Island, and Wood River outside Dillingham.

So far, nothing concrete has publicly come out of acquisition discussions. At the end of last summer, Undercurrent reported that talks had been delayed. Then on Feb. 13, the publication reported that Japanese company Marubeni, owner of Alaska-based North Pacific Seafoods, had joined Cooke and Ocean Beauty in talks about Alaska salmon industry consolidation.

Alaska seafood processors “could all use a lot more fish,” Forbush said, acknowledging the trend of more processing capacity than salmon in recent years. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicted a harvest of 12 million pink salmon in Southeast in 2020. This is well below the 35 million average for the past 10 years. And it is well below the current processing capacity in Alaska, Forbush said. “2013 was the last year we had more fish than capacity.”

Ocean Beauty has struggled in past years with low salmon yields. During the 2018 season, Ocean Beauty closed its Excursion Inlet plant early as a result of low fish volume, KHNS reported. And at the end of 2019, Ocean Beauty sold its Petersburg canning facility, citing market trends. According to Petersburg radio station KFSK, the company transferred many Petersburg cannery workers to the Excursion Inlet plant, which has a greater capacity for producing popular frozen salmon products.

Consolidation talks are motivated by recognition that a single, large processing company would have the resources to better deal with turbulence in the market, low salmon yields and rising labor costs, Undercurrent reported. 

However, the timeline for Cooke’s alleged acquisition of Ocean Beauty remains unclear. “We don’t offer comment on rumored or speculated acquisitions or mergers,” said Joel Richardson, vice president of public relations for Cooke.

“Historically the majority of raw fish tax (fisheries business tax) that comes to the Haines Borough is generated by fish landed at (Ocean Beauty’s Excursion Inlet plant),” Haines Borough Finance Director Jila Stuart said. Although in recent years, “the plant at Letnikof has become a significant contributor as well.”

For the current fiscal year, the borough collected $226,890 in raw fish tax.