When Trident Seafoods hired Bill Gilbert back in 1993 and brought him to Cordova, most Copper River salmon were sold frozen into Japanese markets.
Gilbert went on, over the years, to guide Trident into a significant fresh domestic business, fillet and domestic Ikura as well, noted fisheries industry veteran John Garner, as Gilbert was honored on June 10 by the Prince William Sound Science Center and city of Cordova.
PWSSC presented Gilbert with its Fisheries Achievement Award, and the city with a Proclamation of Appreciation.
Garner, who hired Gilbert, described the retiring manager of Trident’s South Plant as a humble man, who richly deserves recognition for his years in Cordova.
“He has done so much to help promote and market Copper River (salmon), played a central role in developing and maintaining good relations between fishers and processors, and has been a mentor to many young people in the business,” said Garner.
“Bill was, on one hand, a no-nonsense guy who gives you exactly what he is thinking – watch out what you ask for, but, with a great sense of humor and a belly laugh that you cannot forget,” Garner told the audience at the awards ceremony. “Bill has seafood in his genes; both his uncle and his father were in the business, and he was shipped off to Alaska as a youngster and never left the seafood community.”
Gilbert, and his wife, Paula Pershall Gilbert, were guests of honor at the award reception and at PWSSC’s annual Copper River Nouveau gourmet dinner, at Orca Adventure Lodge, following the award ceremony.
Gilbert’s last day in Cordova is June 16, and his last official day with Trident Seafoods is Aug. 1. The couple will then head for retirement in Northern Idaho.
“When I got here, marketing of Copper River seafood and salmon were in their youth,” Gilbert said. “It has matured so much in the 24 years that I’ve been allowed to be here and it was fun. It’s been a wonderful ride. I’ve enjoyed the heck out of it.
“Trident saw value here in Cordova and they have a vision for the future. It was nice to be a part of that vision. Now, it is time for me to retire. I’ll miss it, but that’s part of life. I’m thankful to the community for allowing me these splendid years here, and I leave with the knowledge that the town and the fisheries will continue to perform at their best, and be the best fishery in Alaska. I’ve been everywhere from Ketchikan to Nome. Cordova is unique. I couldn’t think of a better place to have spent my life,” he said.
PWSSC’s Fisheries Award is presented annually to an individual or group who have made significant contributions toward the sustainable use of fishery resources in Prince William Sound and/or the Copper River region.
Gilbert was selected as this year’s recipient because of his mentorship, efforts to develop positive relationships between fishers and processors, and success in developing new domestic markets for Copper River seafood by promoting quality production.
Friends and business associates of Gilbert’s from Alaska and beyond were in attendance at the Cordova Center to watch the presentation of awards.
Guests of honor included Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott; Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin, and Garner, a founding member of Norquest Seafoods and chief operating officer for North Pacific Seafoods.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was originally scheduled to present Gilbert with the PWSSC award, but had to leave Cordova ahead of schedule due to personal reasons. Instead the award was presented by Mallott.
Katrina Hoffman, president and chief executive officer of PWSSC, was master of ceremonies for the evening, and spoke highly of Gilbert’s contributions to Cordova and Prince William Sound fisheries. Gilbert was nominated for the award by Torie Baker, a Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agent.
Hoffman noted that Gilbert typically sat on the committee selecting the Fisheries Achievement Award winner, and that his name was suggested as a possible awardee multiple times. Then a few weeks ago she stopped by his office to notify him that he had been selected and to ask if he would accept the award.
Gilbert said when he learned of his selection he felt “incredibly humbled.
“It is an award that in the last several years has been given to people who are outstanding in the industry here – fishermen, processors, entrepreneurs, all very distinguished people. I don’t view myself in that regard,” Gilbert said.
“This is a working community,” he said. “People go to work and try to be productive, be it in fisheries, the forestry, working for the city, wherever it may be. We go to work, work hard, and in doing so, enhance the community,” Gilbert said.
“I’m always amazed that as small of a community as this is, there is such a splendid variety of really interesting, intelligent and motivated people here who make this town unique. Cordova is one of the last real fishing towns left in Alaska, and it is very special – it’s the people who make it that way.”
Gilbert had a knack for understanding the community’s needs and balancing that with his duties as Trident Seafoods’ South Plant manager, Garner said.
“Bill had to manage the business right next to the fanciest hotel in town, with many guests in the summer who could have reason to complain about noise, odors, and ragged, tired process workers. Bill would always work hard to keep the disruptions to the minimum necessary,” Garner said. “Bill was a champion of the community, and loved the identification with Cordova. He was always trying to make decisions based on what was best for the long-term benefit of the business, and the town.”
“The fact that there are so many workers who have stayed with Bill for years, speaks to the way he treats everyone, (from) process workers to managers, with respect and dignity. Bill never really tried to take credit for what that ‘little’ plant could do, he always pointed to his employees and what they did.”
Gilbert also received accolades from Cordova’s Mayor, Clay Koplin, who presented Gilbert with the city’s Proclamation of Appreciation.
“When so much of a community’s livelihood and culture revolve around one industry like fishing does for Cordova, the fish processing plant managers become some of the most important people in the community,” Koplin said.
“As a can-shop foreman, middle-management type in a salmon cannery for several summers while attending college, I can especially relate to, and appreciate, how special Bill is. Plant managers are strategic tacticians on par with a field general in battle during the summer fishing season. They manage dozens of tenders, hundreds of fishermen, hundreds of employees, tens of millions of dollars of plant and infrastructure, and many millions of dollars of time-sensitive product. The vendors, accounting, materials and goods, packaging, and shipping all factor in as well. When you conduct these high stress activities with the grace and calm that Bill does, and tirelessly promote your people, your industry, and your community – you truly have something special,” Koplin said.
Prince William Sound Science Center’s Fisheries Achievement Award Recipients, 2005-2017
By the Cordova Times staff
2017 – Bill Gilbert
2016 – Rhey Velasco
2015 – Alaska Airlines and Lynden Transport
2014 - Bill Webber Sr. and Irene Webber
2013 – Bill Bailey III
2012 – The Copper River Fishermen’s Cooperative
2011 – Steve Moffitt
2010 - Peter Kuttel
2009 - Thea Thomas
2008 - Ken Roberson
2007 – R.J. Kopchak
2006 - Ken Roemhildt
2005 - Jon Rowley
Gilbert receives Proclamation of Appreciation from City of Cordova
By The Cordova Times staff
Bill Gilbert, retiring manager of Trident Seafoods’ South Plant in Cordova, was honored on June 10 with a Proclamation of Appreciation from the city of Cordova for his dedication to his community and the seafood industry.
The proclamation was present during the Prince William Sound Science Center’s Fisheries Award Reception at the Cordova Center.
The proclamation reads, “I, Mayor Clay R. Koplin, do hereby issue this Proclamation of Appreciation to William “Bill” Gilbert, Trident South Plant Manager, for his years of invaluable contributions to Cordova, its fisheries, fishermen, plant employees and families, upon his retirement from Trident Seafoods and the Alaska Seafood Industry.
WHEREAS, Bill arrived in Cordova to manage the Norquest/Silver Lining Seafoods plant in
WHEREAS, throughout his time as plant manager, he worked tirelessly to bring the highest
quality Copper River and Prince William Sound salmon, halibut, and sablefish to markets around the world; and
WHEREAS, over his tenure, longline boats from across Alaska came out of their way to make
deliveries in Cordova out of respect and admiration for Bill; and
WHEREAS, such deliveries contributed significantly to the economy of the community of
Cordova and allowed Bill the opportunity to perfect his smoked black cod recipe which has been enjoyed by countless visitors to Trident’s South Plant; and
WHEREAS, Bill generously volunteered many personal hours, resources and guidance in
aiding many organizations, causes, and fellow waterfront businesses; and
WHEREAS, he always strove for the betterment of the livelihoods of generations of fishermen,
tendermen, and resource managers working in Cordova; and
WHEREAS, Bill’s passion for the science, management and sustainability of Alaska’s
fishery resources are a cornerstone of his life philosophy.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT PROCLAIMED that the Mayor, the City Council, and the citizens of Cordova hereby express their sincerest appreciation to Bill Gilbert for his long-time devotion as a resident, seafood professional and personal champion and supporter of the economy, resources and residents of the City of Cordova, Alaska.”