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Island Seafood Gets Fresh With Customers

Dec 14, 2011

Some people said it wouldn’t be possible to sell seafood in Kodiak when Island Seafoods opened on Shelikof Street in 1999 nbsp;Instead, more than a decade later, the seafood outlet is still in business and thriving after a first season offering a variety of fresh seafood and increased direct sales to customers across the country through its website. The storefront also boasts more than 40 varieties of seafood available to local consumers.

“What sets us apart is our direct access to the resource,” said Ian Whiddon, presiding over counter sales. “We offload it right here on the property. It gets processed right here, 10 feet from where it’s sold.” Working in the storefront, Whiddon said when requests for fresh product came in, he used to don a hair net and go back into the processing area to pick it out on a case-by-case basis. This year, Whiddon decided to stock fresh fish on the counter in Coleman coolers. “In April, I started with one cooler and just had clams and oysters in there,” Whiddon said. As the season turned to halibut, black cod and rockfish, he began to stock a simple variety of whitefish. “As soon a salmon season started that’s when it really, really hit,” Whiddon said “It was like we’ve got something here.” After all, he said, not everyone has a boat, or knows someone to go out trolling for a king salmon, or has a gill net to take over to Litnik. “I had a guy who was in town for the summer and he came in every day to see what was fresh,” Whiddon said. “And I never disappointed him. We had something every single time.”

Announcements of what was part of the fresh catch go out on Island Seafood’s Facebook page throughout the summer.

Whiddon said the fresh fish he featured would be anything the processing plant was working on that day, from sockeye and king salmon to halibut and lingcod. “I had 10 varieties of fresh stuff at the most, including the clams and the oysters, and people were going crazy for it,” he said. Building on the success of selling fresh seafood directly to customers this year, the business took delivery of a fresh seafood case this week. And while Whiddon isn’t sure where the large case will fit in the small storefront, he is excited by the possibility of employing a more sophisticated display than relying on the coolers. The display will be more akin to a local grocery store, he said. “It’s going to be really neat to see a 40-pound fresh king salmon on ice next to some yelloweye rockfish or some Fanny Bay oysters and some Penn Cove black mussels,” he said.

Whiddon expects the fresh case to be installed in the next few weeks. It’s just one example of the way the store has adapted since it moved in 2000 to its current building. “We started out just doing retail, selling crab and some salmon and halibut and scallops, and slowly got bigger and bigger,” Whiddon said.

In December 2003, Island Seafoods was purchased by Pacific Seafoods, and as the processing side of the business grew and expanded the retail outlet was shuffled around, Whiddon said. The current retail building has been in place since 2005 and is made up, in part, of an old breezeway. “I could probably use a lot more space,” he said. “We get 15 dudes from Texas here and it gets pretty cramped.” Those tourists from the Lower 48 can also get the seafood shipped next-day across the country through the Island Seafoods website, islandseafoods.com. Whiddon credits orders generated through the company website for much of the recent surge in business. Orders often come from repeat customers and through word of mouth. Years of being in the marketplace has also led to a maturity of the website. When people sit down to a crab dinner at someone’s house in say Toledo, Ohio — the guests are going to wonder where the seafood came from, Whiddon said. “Those people tell their friends and they check us out and order something online,” he said. “It’s just kind of grown from there.”

Island Seafoods plans to soon overhaul its website to give it more of a feel of shopping in a real seafood marketplace. One of the plans, Whiddon said, is to add a webcam at the Island Seafood docks. “Somebody can say, ‘What are they doing in Kodiak at Island Seafoods?’” Whiddon said. “They will say, ‘Look, the Stella’s at the dock again, they must have some fresh rock sole.’”

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