New Icicle CEO tours Alaska facilities
Icicle CEO Pal Angell-Hansen is touring the company's seafood processing plants on his first trip to Alaska.
The Cooke group, owners of farmed salmon giant Cooke Aquaculture, bought Icicle Seafoods in 2016, and Pal Angell-Hansen, a Cooke executive, took the top position at Icicle back in February.
Angell-Hansen toured the Icicle processing facility in Egegik for the first time earlier this month, five months into his job as the company's CEO. He has experience in the seafood industry as the chief operating officer of farming for Cooke Aquaculture, but this is his debut as the head of a company specializing in wild-caught salmon.
"People sometimes ask, 'why did Cooke, being a farming company, get into wild fisheries,'" said Angell-Hansen of the inherent challenges of processing wild salmon. "Up until the primary processing plant it's very different — wild fisheries and farmed aquaculture — but after primary processing, whatever you can do with a wild salmon you can do with a farmed and visa-versa."
The Cooke group plans to put out more fresh wild caught product, much in the way it has done with farmed salmon, but the challenges of doing so are significant. The Cooke group has invested heavily in new equipment for its Icicle processing plants, but did not get the expected return with the weak pink run last year.
"Of course, pink season last year wasn't as expected," said Angell-Hansen. "That affected the whole industry — also Icicle — but we have owners that are committed. They've invested significant amounts of money over the last 12 months to support the business; to develop the business."
To add to the difficulty, Icicle plants are short of staff this season, as restrictions to work visa programs have made it difficult to hire unskilled labor from overseas.
"This year has been a challenge. We are a bit short. It seems to be the whole industry is, and of course with the visas, the H2B's was a big disappointment and made it more difficult," said Angell-Hansen.
The Icicle fish processing facility in Egegik was understaffed by about 25 percent late last week, according to management, but the plant is still hiring new workers and hope to be up to the full 310-person crew before the Bristol Bay sockeye run picks up.
If the rush of salmon overwhelms the processors they will be forced to can more and fillet less.
"Yes, at some point you have to prioritize. Of course, we want to be able to take all the fish that our fisherman manage to get a hold of, and we need to prioritize the product format to be to able manage all that. So yes, it could have an effect on product format, which is not ideal, but we'll manage," said Angell-Hansen.
Angell-Hansen is touring the Icicle processing facilities in Alaska before returning to the company's headquarters in Seattle.