Silver Bay Seafoods agrees to pay fine for illegal dumping in Naknek River
Earlier this month, Sitka-based Silver Bay Seafoods agreed to pay a fine of $467,469 for illegal dumping at its Naknek River facility in Bristol Bay. The company also agreed to remedy violations of its state permit to discharge pollutants.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation said in a news release that Silver Bay “repeatedly dumped significantly more fish waste into the Naknek River than allowed” in 2017 and 2020. State inspectors also found numerous violations at the facility during a scheduled inspection last year, such as discharging bloody water.
Processors are permitted to discharge up to 10 million pounds of fish waste into surrounding waters. Randy Bates, water director with the Department of Environmental Conservation, said Silver Bay had asked for permission to release more. The ministry denied them.
“We said, ‘No, you can’t go over that £10million,'” Bates recalled. “They voluntarily went over that each of those years, knowing there was a hard limit of £10million.”
Bates said that in 2017 Silver Bay topped £2.9m. In 2020, they exceeded the £5.1m limit and reported the breaches to the state after the fact.
The Silver Bay Seafoods facility in Naknek processes approximately 2 million pounds of fish per day. Bates says that’s far more than other processors in the area.
“The other facilities there probably don’t reject as much as Silver Bay Seafoods. So while I think all of these facilities operating there that operate under the general permit, they all have this 10 million pound limit, I don’t think there’s someone else approaching that 10 million pound discharge limit,” he said. “Most of them weigh around 100,000 pounds, plus or minus a little here and there.”
The Department of Environmental Protection has a number of conditions that companies must follow when disposing of fish waste. Waste should be shredded.
“We have major currents coming up with the flood and coming out,” Bates said. “So the majority – if not all – of this material that comes out of these pipes, not just at Silver Bay Seafoods, but all of the plants and facilities in operation that have such a release into these intertidal river systems. The release that comes out of these pipes is flushed either upstream or downstream quite significantly.”
This is not the first time that Silver Bay Seafoods has paid fines for illegal dumping. In 2019, the company settled a lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency over excessive dumping.
Silver Bay Seafoods did not respond to an interview request. In an email, communications director Abby Fredrick said, “Silver Bay Seafoods voluntarily implemented corrective actions prior to the settlement being finalized. We are confident that these measures will ensure compliance for this season and beyond.
Bates said in 2017 and 2020 the state gave Silver Bay other options to dispose of fish waste.
“You can transport it, you can transport it to another facility to crush it and unload it, you can take it on a gurry ship to deeper waters where we would allow them to unload it,” he said. .
DEC discussed with the company over the winter how to avoid exceeding the 10 million pound limit this season, Bates said. He explained options include contracting with one or more tenders to transport the waste further offshore for disposal, freezing the waste into blocks and turning it into pet food, and transferring the fish. to other facilities.
The fine also takes into account other violations committed by the company last year. During an inspection of the haul site, DEC officials observed a Silver Bay tender unloading seafood processing water into the river.
Tenders usually keep the fish cool in chilled seawater until they are taken to processing plants to offload their catch. DEC’s Bates said that when the plant sucks in the fish, the tender is supposed to treat the bloody water and through the facility as well, so it can be cleaned and properly disposed of.
“But sometimes, contrary to what the permit says, the tender or the other vessels sitting there will pump that water straight into the river. We don’t allow that,” he said.
Bates said Silver Bay’s nearly half a million dollar fine for the excessive dumping in the Naknek River will go to the state’s general fund.