Kevin Anderson, President of Alaska Marine Lines, left, and Vice President Jake Maenpa make a presentation to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Hangar Ballroom on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Kevin Anderson, President of Alaska Marine Lines, left, and Vice President Jake Maenpa make a presentation to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Hangar Ballroom on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

As Southeast fish totals dwindle, Alaska Marine Lines expands north

Shipping company embraces change to remain successful

Corrections: An earlier version of this article stated that AML would add 65 villages to its portfolio in the Arctic. AML already serves 65 villages in Western Alaska and this would add to the 65 existing villages receiving services. The article also referred to Dunlap Towing Company as part of Lynden’s family of companies. Dunlap is a service partner of Lynden’s, not part of the company. The article has been changed to reflect these changes.

Those at Alaska Marine Lines, including President Kevin Anderson, always closely watch salmon forecasts in Southeast Alaska.

In recent years, salmon runs in the region have been lower than average, and the shipping company has felt it.

“We had a bad year last year here in Southeast Alaska,” Anderson told a crowd at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday. “If we were just in Southeast Alaska, we would not have been profitable.”

Fortunately for AML, the company isn’t solely dependent on Southeast. Over the years, the company has expanded its service across the state. This year, AML’s service area will include the Arctic, Anderson said. This expansion, which will add to 65 Western Alaska villages already in AML’s portfolio, will be done through a teaming agreement with Bowhead Transport according to an announcement in November.

[Southeast pink salmon forecast cause for concern]

Anderson said in an interview after Thursday’s luncheon that AML previously never went north of Kotzebue, but that will change this year. He also said that next year, they should have a facility in Kodiak so they can capitalize on the distinctive seafood harvest there.

The company is always looking to get involved in new communities across the state, Anderson said, in an attempt to make its business more sustainable as Mother Nature or other factors make the resource industry less reliable. Anderson said they began trying to diversify their services about 20 years ago, looking to “take the peaks and valleys out of this business” and specifically make sure they were prepared for fluctuating fish totals.

Harvests of pink and Chinook salmon were very low in 2018, according to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s 2018 harvest report. The Chinook salmon returns were the lowest since 1975, according to the report.

“If the fish don’t show up, and they did not show up last year, we struggle to be profitable with just northbound cargo,” Anderson said.

The majority of Thursday’s presentation was from AML Vice President Jake Maenpa, who took attendees at the Hangar Ballroom on a crash course through AML’s history. The Lynden family of companies bought Southeast Barge Lines in 1980 and eventually turned that into AML.

Nearly 40 years later, AML now extends all over the state, using 120 forklifts, five rotating barges, 4.4 million gallons of fuel and 5,000 containers to ship supplies throughout the Pacific Northwest. Lynden also now has a mobile app (called Lynden Mobile) where people can track shipments.

[Senators propose way for ferries to run this winter]

Lynden and AML have grown slowly and carefully over the years, which Anderson said is intentional.

“We do it very methodically, look for opportunities and maybe pick up a competitor who’s struggling or whatever,” Anderson said. “We’re very conservative when it comes to that sort of thing, so you don’t see Lynden or Alaska Marine Lines growing super fast. We’re pretty methodical.”

Maenpa showed photos throughout the presentation of ships and barges fighting their way through ice and snow in Alaska. The presentation also included a video of AML vessels sailing through calmer water, set to the tune of Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” A barge was shown winding through the Wrangell Narrows just as the guitar solo began.

Anderson and Maenpa had broad smiles on their faces watching it.

“We like to say, ‘the barge business is not a glamorous business,’” Maenpa said, “but they dressed it up pretty good there.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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