Greg McMillan, a self-professed country boy from Tennessee, has found that in Alaska he can do something other than farm the land – he can farm the ocean.
McMillan owns Keta Seafoods, a seafood farm in Craig. He originally came to Alaska to work for the Forest Service in the early 2000s. He said he scored the Forest Service internship largely because of his ability to play the banjo.
“I guess they need more musicians up here, apparently,” he laughed. “So that’s one of those interesting things.”
He returned home to Tennessee for a few years to start a construction company.
But McMillan couldn’t stay away from Southeast Alaska.
In 2009, he returned to Alaska. He knew he was interested in the commercial fishing industry, and shellfish in particular. So he attended the Alaska Shellfish Association meeting in 2010. That, he said, was when he knew it was what he wanted to do.
“So since 2010, I was looking for farm sites and looking for ways to get into the industry,” he said.
At the end of 2013, he purchased the farm where Keta Seafoods operates today. McMillan’s oyster production was minimal – almost nothing – in 2014, but in 2015 things started looking up.
And then, in 2016, he purchased enough farming equipment from a vacant farm in Yakutat to really get things going – and growing. The sale included just under 600,000 live oysters. Moving those oysters from Yakutat to Craig was a challenge.
“It took us…54 hours to unload all the stuff,” he said.
McMillan said he’s been a business-minded guy all his life. The hardest part of starting Keta Seafoods was learning about the seafood itself.
“It wasn’t so much the learning curve of the fish business,” he said. “The business part’s the easy part. It’s – what your product is, is the difficult learning curve.”
Now, though, McMillan knows his product, which also includes locally harvested salmon and geoducks. He said Keta’s most popular product is their canned smoked king salmon. They’ve just recently gotten into larger oyster sales.
“In our reality, it’s Alaskan products: Alaskan salmon; Alaskan oysters,” he said. “There’s a market for it. People want it.”
Keta Seafoods is one of a handful of family-operated shellfish farms on Prince of Wales. The currents and cold, clean water have been cited as ideal for oyster production.