New training program in Alaska helps seafood industry meet demand for ammonia refrigeration technicians

Man wearing hat, glasses and mask looking at an ammonia refrigeration unit in a processing plant.
Ammonia refrigeration unit. Photo courtesy of Kris Norosz.

Although Alaska is located in the far—and often frigid—north, keeping its bountiful seafood the envy of the world requires refrigeration. While both ice and fish are abundant in Alaska, we have a lack of in-state training opportunities for refrigeration technician jobs. Alaska Sea Grant is working to support an effort by iWorkwise and the Alaska Research Consortium to meet this need. The new Professional Ammonia Refrigeration Operator Education for seafood processors (ProAROE) program offers Alaska’s seafood industry employees refrigeration training, while saving money for seafood processors by offering the training in state.

ProAROE is a three-level program that teaches skills and competencies specific to Alaska’s seafood ammonia refrigeration systems. The program starts at Level 1, Ammonia Refrigeration Assistant Operator I, progresses to Ammonia Refrigeration Assistant Operator II, and culminates at Level 3, Ammonia Refrigeration Operator.

In 2021, Alaska seafood was exported to more than 100 countries, with most of that product frozen after initial local processing. Every step of the way, fish and crab must be kept cold or frozen to prevent spoilage and ensure freshness. Considering the volume of seafood harvested in Alaska—5.3 billion pounds in 2021 according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute— freezing operations are largely dependent upon refrigeration and freezer capacity.  While typical home refrigerators and freezers use freon gas, large commercial systems depend on a different gas—ammonia—due to greater efficiency, lower energy costs, and no direct contribution to greenhouse gasses.

Commercial ammonia refrigeration systems require regular inspection, maintenance and operation, with ammonia refrigeration engineers and technicians working to keep systems functioning throughout the harvest and processing season. These jobs require specialized technical training, and without such opportunities in Alaska to meet industry needs, seafood companies have sent workers out of state for training and certification.

The exterior of the KSMSC building
Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center

Applications for ProAROE level 1 training are currently being accepted. Starting in September, an online training component will be available to accepted students, followed by a five-day intensive course in October at the University of Alaska Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. The initial training will be limited to 30 students. Applicants not selected for the initial training seats will be waitlisted for future classes.

Upon successful completion of both the online and in-person training, trainees receive a certificate of acquired skills and competencies.

For more information or questions, contact Caleb Taylor, Alaska Sea Grant seafood workforce development coordinator.