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Worker evacuated from Akutan seafood processor after positive COVID-19 test

The four cases mark the first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak at any of Trident’s Alaska facilities. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)
The four cases mark the first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak at any of Trident’s Alaska facilities. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

January 20, 2021 by Hope McKenney, KUCB – Unalaska

A second seafood processing plant in the Aleutian Islands has been hit with COVID-19 infections as the busy winter pollock fishing season is set to kick off.

The U.S. Coast Guard evacuated a Trident Seafoods worker to Anchorage on Sunday from its huge plant on the remote Aleutian island of Akutan after the man tested positive for COVID-19.

His three roommates also tested positive, Trident said in a statement Monday.

Meanwhile, another large processing plant in Unalaska, 35 miles to the southwest, remains closed and locked down after a COVID-19 outbreak there grew by 20 on Friday.

The Aleutian Island seafood processors were largely successful in keeping the virus out of their onshore plants last year. But that’s proven to be more of a challenge as companies fly in workers for the upcoming season, with the coronavirus much more widespread across the Lower 48.

All four of the newly-infected Trident workers had tested negative just two weeks earlier, after a 14-day quarantine in Anchorage, the company said in its statement.

The four cases mark the first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak at any of the company’s Alaska facilities.

Trident says it’s maintained strict COVID-19 mitigation measures since March. Those include a mandatory two-week quarantine, sanitation and use of personal protective equipment, as well as testing.

“Health and safety are our absolute priority,” Joe Bundrant, Trident’s chief executive said in a statement. “We have said from the beginning of this pandemic that if we have an issue, we’re going to shed a light on it. We want to be sure people are aware and know that we are taking this very seriously.”

Trident management is in communication with the 700 workers currently in Akutan and is working to identify where the employees could have been exposed, the statement said. The company is waiting to send 365 more processing workers to Akutan who are currently in quarantine.

“We have notified the State of Alaska, the City of Akutan and our medical partners and are coordinating with all to conduct further tests, implement protocols and contain exposure,” said Stefanie Moreland, Trident’s vice president of government relations and seafood sustainability. “Next actions may include extensive testing and isolation for those who are at most risk.”

Trident is the largest seafood processing company in North America, with more than 8,000 employees. It operates processing facilities in ten coastal communities in Alaska, as well as three large whitefish catcher-processors and four mobile processing ships.

Trident’s Akutan processing plant has a year-round workforce with more than 1,400 company-housed employees during peak seasons. Its facility handles multiple species, from cod to crab, and is capable of processing as much as three million pounds of raw fish per day, according to the company.