Public Radio for Alaska's Bristol Bay
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

CEO Norm Van Vactor reflects on tenure at BBEDC, as the search for a new leader begins

Courtesy of Norm Van Vactor

Van Vactor started as CEO in 2013, a role he said allowed him to get involved in issues he was passionate about, like Pebble Mine and permit retention among local fishermen.

The CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, Norm Van Vactor, retired in October. Now, the corporation is looking for a new leader. 


Van Vactor started as CEO in 2013. He said the role allowed him to get involved in issues he was passionate about, like Pebble Mine and keeping fishing permits in the hands of local fishermen.


“Those were also right at the top of BBEDC board's priority list,” he said. “And so I was able to combine my personal passion with BBEDC’s mission to protect the region.”


Van Vactor was familiar with the seafood industry before becoming CEO. For more than 30 years, he held roles at Peter Pan Seafoods and Leader Creek Fisheries.


He said he’s proud of the progress the BBEDC has made since he took the helm. 


“We’ve become a much larger company, and very stable and well poised for the future,” he said. “And it's a great team of employees that work there, and the place is in great hands.”


The corporation’s mission is to “promote economic growth and opportunities” for people in its 17 member communities through revenue from investments in Bering Sea fisheries, and royalty payments from the Community Development Quota. 


BBEDC has focused on trying to help local fishermen get involved in the fisheries and keep their commercial permits through financial aid and benefit programs. Van Vactor said it’s an ongoing problem.


“It's got a lot of talk from a lot of different segments, but very little action,” he said. “We still have some time, but not a lot. ”  


Although he’s left his day job, Van Vactor said he’s having a hard time using the word “retire.”


“Because I don't know that that's really what's in store for me quite yet,” he said. “I just have a lot of passions. A lot of issues in Bristol Bay are some of those passions.”


During the corporation's search for a new CEO, Board Chairman Robin Samuelsen said, they hope to find someone with offshore fisheries experience.


We're a CDQ group and we're in the offshore fishery,” he said. “So we would like somebody hopefully that has experience in the offshore fisheries, has got some business background, and works well with rural people.”


Samuelsen said that moving forward, they want to continue to take advantage of business opportunities in the fishing industry.


“Such as crab, longline fisheries, cod fisheries,” he said. “We own a number of big boats that participate out in the Bering Sea. We're also half owners of Ocean Beauty Seafoods. So we're in the salmon business also. And so we want to expand the industries, make them more profitable. So that's who we’ll be looking for -- somebody that can do all that for us.”


For now, Chief Operating Officer Helen Smeaton is the acting CEO for all Bristol Bay operations.


The Board of Directors said it doesn’t expect disruption of services or other ongoing activities as it looks for a new CEO. It also said it’s grateful for Van Vactor’s service.

Contact the author at or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.