Billionaire fisherman Chuck Bundrant dies at 79
Chuck Bundrant, the fishing industry titan who marketed pollock in fast-food chains around the world and spent six decades trawling the Northern Seas, died Sunday at the age of 79.
Bundrant quietly ran America’s largest seafood company, Trident Seafoods, from Seattle with a fleet of 40 ships and 16 processing plants, mostly in the Pacific Northwest. Trident Seafoods has grown to employ some 5,000 people during peak season in Alaska. Forbes estimates sales for the privately held, closely held company at approximately $2 billion. Bundrant, who battled Parkinson’s disease for the past decade, had a fortune of at least $1.3 billion when he died, Forbes estimates.
Bundrant, who was born in Tennessee, started fishing in Alaskan waters in 1961. That’s when he left college after one semester and drove a 1953 Ford station wagon with three buddies from Middle Tennessee State University in Seattle, arriving with $80 in hand. Growing up wanting to be a veterinarian, the 19-year-old fell in love with the docks while working for a fish processor. Instead of going back to school, he went to Alaska in the winter, where he worked on a commercial crab fishing boat. He eventually became captain of the ship.
In 1973, Bundrant co-founded Trident Seafoods with two crab fishermen in Alaska. They created the 135ft Bilikin, the first fishing boat with crab cookers and freezing equipment on board. In the 1980s, competition for certain fish peaked.
Alaska pollock, a groundfish that chefs considered a so-called trash fish, became Bundrant’s gold mine. Its first break came when the Long John Silvers signed a multi-million dollar contract in 1981. That same year, Trident built a fish processing plant in Akutan, Alaska, which became its most remote operations. . Trident then became the main supplier to national fast-food chains, including McDonald’s and Burger King, because Bundrant was selling pollock cheaper than the cod they used to buy.
Bundrant has also played politics to his advantage over the decades. In 1998, Trident and other fishing companies pushed Congress to pass a bill that barred foreign fishing crews from working in US waters by requiring 75% US ownership for companies fishing in the ocean. Pacific within 200 miles offshore. Bundrant was one of the architects of the bill.
“Chuck saw all these foreign fishing companies and said ‘I want a piece of this’ back when no one was looking at these fisheries,” recalls Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats trade group who fished in Alaska and lobbied for the industry for decades alongside Bundrant.
The resulting political spectacle saw Stevens, who was then Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, decommission a dozen offshore trawlers owned by foreign companies and stripped them from shipyards. According to Paine, Bundrant’s “pipeline to these key employees” on Capitol Hill even led Stevens to earmark $3.5 million for an airport built on Akutan Island, so Trident’s seasonal workers could fly more. near the factory where they work, instead of having to take an hour-long ferry ride. It opened in 2012 at a cost to the government of $54 million.
The following year, 2013, Bundrant’s son Joe took over as CEO. Besides Joe, Bundrant is survived by his wife, Diane, his daughter Jill Dulcich, his daughter Julie Bundrant Rhodes and their families, including 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“This business, no matter how small, will remain close family,” Bundrant said. “That’s the key to Trident’s success.”