Trident Seafoods, which claims to be the largest vertically-integrated seafood harvesting and processing company in North America, has had to temporarily close a plant in Alaska amid a number of Covid-19 infections.

The first of four cases at the processing facility in Akutan became apparent last weekend with an employee testing positive, and the other infections were discovered when the worker’s three room mates were tested. All four had tested negative for the virus two weeks earlier. 

In a statement issued yesterday (21 January), privately-owned Trident, headquartered in Seattle, Washington, said it will pause operations for three weeks while it undertakes “comprehensive” testing and to “support a preventative quarantine” for the 700 workers. 

The Akutan site has the capacity to process as much as three million pounds of raw fish a day, including Wild Alaska pollock, Pacific cod, Alaska king and snow crabs, and halibut. The company as a group exports to more than 50 countries and has operations in the US, Japan, Europe, China, and Latin America. 

CEO Joe Bundrant, the son of founder Chuck Bundrant, said in a statement: “This serious action to stop operations is necessary to allow us to do everything we can to provide a safe work environment and resume full operations as quickly as possible.

“Our review of protocols has so far shown that our robust quarantine protocols have been closely followed and successful. We have not determined how the virus entered Akutan but are investigating all potential gaps.”

The closure comes during a busy period for Trident as the pollock season gets underway. “It’s extremely difficult and impactful to do this,” Stefanie Moreland, Trident’s vice president of government relations and seafood sustainability, said. “A pause in operations is a sacrifice and burden for all of us at Trident, as well as for our partners. We’re working through a variety of scenarios to lighten the burden for everyone affected by changes in our operation plans.” 

Moreland said the company took the decision to shutter the plant based on advice from the State of Alaska and “with knowledge of lessons learned from others in our industry”. 

All 700 staff will be confined to their worker accommodation during the closure on full pay and will receive daily health checks.

“We know that Covid-19 is now on the site, and until we test everyone we won’t know how extensive it is,” Moreland added. “We feel with the full cooperation from employees on site, we’ll be able to resume full operations in approximately three weeks.”