WARRENTON — A little more than five years after its seafood-processing plant along the Skipanon River burned down, Pacific Seafood on Aug. 14 celebrated the fulfillment of a promise to rebuild.
The Warrenton plant, built in 1941 and acquired by Pacific Seafood in 1983, was the company’s first. A roof fire on June 4, 2013, destroyed all but the ice house.
Pacific Seafood is a dominant force in the industry on the West Coast. In Pacific County, it acquired the Coast Seafoods oyster facility in South Bend and its beds in October 2011. Crabbers from both sides of the Columbia provide product for the Warrenton plant.
Frank Dulcich, a third-generation CEO of the company founded by his grandfather, said a day later that the company would be back.
“We said our family in Warrenton will endure, and we have done just that,” Dulcich told a crowd of employees, contractors, local officials and others gathered Tuesday on the new dock outside the plant.
After the fire, Pacific Seafood continued paying employees. Within a week, the company had subleased a former seaplane hangar at the North Tongue Point industrial docks used by Del Mar Seafoods for seasonal sardine processing. The company will phase out operations there as it moves back to Warrenton in the coming months.
Dulcich presented 62 workers who stayed with Pacific Seafood through the fire and rebuild with challenge coins to commemorate their dedication to the company. After his presentation, the fishing vessel Pacific Conquest made an inaugural offload of rockfish.
The new facility
The new plant, at 78,000 square feet and a cost of more than $20 million, is built to process whiting, groundfish, steelhead and Dungeness crab, with plans to add shrimp processing in the coming years.
Seafood is offloaded from cranes along the banks of the Skipanon and flows inside the plant, where Pacific Seafood is installing 40 fillet stations, two skinning machines and a vacuum packer. Behind the processing areas are industrial blast freezers and cold storage that cool product to anywhere between 20 and minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The product basically flows right from the dock to the cold storage,” said Aaron Dierks, a project manager for Pacific Seafood.
The plant is expected to process up to 120,000 pounds of groundfish and 90,000 pounds of Dungeness crab per day, taking seafood from 70 boats. It will employ up to 140 full-time and 100 seasonal workers.
The entire plant is temperature-controlled, a first among West Coast facilities, Dulcich said. The main processing floor is designed so no forklifts will ever have to go inside, and the building’s wastewater treatment system will keep it ahead of the curve on permit requirements. In addition, new packaging and freezing technology will help expand the reach of the company’s products.
Crab and shrimp
The plant is expected to start taking regular deliveries by October and be ready for Dungeness crab season in the winter. Pacific Seafood will start looking at a second phase of the plant in the coming years to add shrimp processing, Dulcich said. The company has plans for four peeling machines producing up to 50,000 pounds of raw product per day.
Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer called Pacific Seafood a cornerstone of the city’s economy. He said a banner hung outside the plant — emblazoned with “Warrenton Endures” — was particularly fitting given how the city has tried to diversify its economy to avoid fading away like other small towns when a mill or other large employer closes down.
The company’s rebuild was lifted by $3 million in lottery-backed bonds approved by the state Legislature and supported by state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, and state Rep. Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach. Johnson called the state investment a worthwhile public-private partnership that shows how important the seafood processing industry is to Oregon’s economy.
“Think of all of the folks that are sustained by what happens here and will happen here at this remarkable plant,” Johnson said. “I say to Pacific Seafood, ‘welcome home.’”