A Prince William Sound salmon hatchery operator has agreed to pay a $1 million fine for hazardous waste violations.
Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. pleaded guilty to illegally burning fuel and waste at its hatcheries, which resulted in the serious injury of a worker.
Alaska has 25 private, non-profit salmon hatcheries in the state, most of which are in Southeast Alaska. Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. operates five in remote locations, three of which are state-owned. Hatcheries collect salmon eggs from native DNA lines, fertilize and incubate them indoors, rear them outdoors in pens until they are large enough to be released into nearby watercourse.
What led the US government to charge the regional hatchery operator and the $1 million fine were years of illegal disposal of hazardous waste.
The 18-page plea agreement filed Nov. 9 focuses primarily on the Cannery Creek Hatchery located in remote Unakwik Inlet, about 40 miles east of Whittier.
The Cannery Creek Hatchery has repeatedly violated federal environmental laws for nearly a decade, according to the plea agreement.
In 2013, there was a 400-gallon diesel spill, which led to the state suing the company and some hatchery employees. This resulted in a $55,000 fine from state environmental controllers. The operator also had to hire a consulting firm, Nortech Environmental Engineering & Industrial Hygiene Consultants, to create an environmental compliance plan for its five hatcheries. The consultancy noted that the Cannery Creek Hatchery lacked a formal waste management plan, stored new and used petroleum products in various locations without proper containment, and burned solid waste in an open pit.
Five years later, in 2018, one of the hatchery workers was seriously injured while tending to a burning drum containing remnants of jet fuel. He was evacuated for treatment.
Later, when the Federal Environmental Protection Agency investigated the site, the agency found that the hatchery was still burning fuel barrels.
Other hatcheries were mentioned in the plea agreement, which states, “The disposal of drums containing waste oil has been a long-standing issue at PWSAC hatcheries.
The Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. eventually hired a contractor to remove “several tons” of hazardous waste from its hatcheries, according to the plea agreement.
In addition to the $1 million fine, the company has agreed to five years of probation during which it will follow an environmental compliance plan.
Jeffrey Robinson, an attorney who represents the hatcheries, said he could not comment on the case until it was completed.
A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office said sentencing was expected in about three months, but declined to comment further.
The salmon produced in the hatcheries in Prince William Sound represents about 45% of the value of the harvest in the region, or about $50 million annually.
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