The large metal buildings at 70 West Marine Drive have roots that reach into the heyday of Astoria’s salmon packing industry, starting with the Elmore Cannery in 1881. In the postwar years, American Can’s name identified later structures as a vital cog in a waterfront that still buzzed with fish processing and canning.
Today the name is Astoria Warehousing and the facility is used to receive, store and label Alaska salmon — up to 72 million cans at any one time. Recently we learned that this company’s corporate parent will shortly lay off 25 workers and close the facility.
The logical, expected transition is that this link to the fishing-based economy will morph into the tourism industry, as a hotel property.
At the top of the corporate chain that owns Astoria Warehousing is Cooke Aquaculture, a Canadian-based corporation recently in the news when a net pen broke and released tens of thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound.
When this newspaper asked Cooke to say something about its decision to close Astoria Warehousing, the company declined. In 2018, that is surprising corporate behavior. Crisis management experts are a staple in the corporate world. They fashion responses to difficult situations such as this. By saying nothing, Cooke insults Astorians and its own hardworking employees. Moreover, it seems to imply corporate embarrassment.
Considering recent trends on the waterfront, it’s easy to imagine that Astoria Warehousing’s extremely scenic site will one day be converted to a tourism-sector use. It is lamentable to lose blue-collar jobs. There will be a gap before any hospitality employment is developed — if that is indeed Cooke’s endgame — and the wages may or may not be comparable. Plus, warehousing/fish-processing skills are perhaps not a natural fit for the positions likely to be created.
Astoria has long expressed a commitment to maintaining whatever it can from the city’s industrial heritage. Even though its facilities are not an architectural gem, Astoria Warehousing has been a valued contributor to our economic mix, with genuine ties to the once-flourishing activities that brought families here in the first place. It will be sad to see it go. Its employees are a tight-knit family of their own, by all accounts — longtime workers, many of whom have dedicated decades to making the enterprise work. The loss of those jobs will have a ripple effect throughout our community.
Until recently, Astoria Warehousing’s parent companies were Bellevue, Washington-based Peter Pan Seafoods and Seattle-based Icicle Seafoods. Their acquisition by Cooke is part of a trend toward consolidation in the fish industry. This pattern has been going on a long time — most notably here in 1964 when Bumble Bee Seafoods was absorbed by a multinational corporation that moved Bumble Bee’s headquarters to California in 1975. As with Oregon-based Willamette Industries’ 2002 hostile buyout by Weyerhaeuser, the loss of Bumble Bee’s once-strong connections to Oregon was a hard economic blow that also signaled the shredding of a generous corporate culture that gave to local charities and robustly participated in civic life.
The most commonly held attitude toward the absence of local loyalty by multinational companies is that they are beyond influence — that trying to make a positive difference in bucking these trends is like spitting into one of our sou’wester storms. There is much evidence that suggests the American people are tiring of such powerlessness.