Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Seafood blogging

Consider that there are now nine million people publishing blogs, with 40,000 new publishers every day. There is no limit to how much you can post on a blog, whether written matter, photos, video, of voice. You've got Moblogging, or mobile blogging; posting to your blog on the go from a mobile device. You've got Vlogging, or video blogging, which is posting of videos. And Podcasting is creating your own radio show and delivering it through your blog. You may not be as brave as Microsoft who just started a video blog in April, or Paris Hilton who just started podcasting to promote a new movie. But it's not hard to do, I knew nothing of all this until I just started doing it this winter on a hunch that it was going someplace.

A publishing conference I attended this winter had a workshop on blogging. The message was that if you wanted to get anything published, it is highly recommended that you start a blog so people can see who you are. Publishers are busy people and if you are lucky enough to get face to face with one, you might have only sixty seconds to give your speel. I've been to more fisheries conferences than you can shake a stick at and you don't have much more time to make a point there either. That's why newcomers go into a conference and find out that everyone has already made up their minds. Things take a lot of hashing out and there isn't time to do it all at a stand-up public forum. There just isn't time to hear everyone's reasoning. A lot of good folks aren't comfortable speaking in public, like 85% of us, so an awful lot of folks can't get a crack at putting in their two bits.

As Business Week says, "Companies over the past few centuries have gotten used to shaping their message. Now they're losing control of it." A poll by Reuters News Service showed that blogging is neck and neck with traditional media in the amount of influence it has. That's staggering in light of being able to measure the lifespan of blogging's influence in months.

I think blogging would be a great boon to the Alaska fishing industry if industry writers linked together, and new credible voices were linked as well. (You have to ask someone if they will put your URL on their blog as a link, unless they are looking for good web sites and blogs to put in their link list. It's just accepted that you would agree by virtue of having a presence on the Internet.) Maybe there aren't any major hurtles that anyone wants to talk about, maybe all opportunities are already on the table for fishermen and processors to sort through, maybe the industry is on the right track now. (Personally I don't believe that.) But if the industry isn't blogging it's missing out. Business Week thinks blogging isn't a business elective, but a prerequisite.

Companies hire people to blog for them to create a buzz around their products. Companies and industry associations hire people to search out blogs about their products, their industry and what the competition is doing, and make reports and blogs on what they have found. It's a whole lot cheaper than flying all the way over to Halifax to see what someone is doing like I did one time.

We could have been discussing all those white elephants the state of Alaska birthed through the years on behalf of the fishing industry. Your average fisherman I think would be apalled if he knew how many tens of millions of dollars has been spent for their sakes that never put a penny in their pockets. There has been Capital Matching Grants, Alaska Science and Technology grants (the dead sources), and now we can talk about the live ones.

Rules governing print and telecast information has become profoundly regimented. Not true of blogging. It's the wild, wild west. But how bad can it get compared to print media and television? News anchors getting laid off for lying, newpapers holding mandatory "philosophy sessions" on Saturdays. Blogs are governed by the inherent futility of hanky-panky because the readership doesn't pay for viewing and they can just not go back to that blog again. But blogging is growing and maybe between a blog and maybe a X-Box 360 you won't need to do anything new for a long time.

There has never been a marketing tool as fast and effective as blogging. The breakthrough that has made this possible for the most part is RSS, or Really Simple Syndication. It's a search engine program that searches the web for key words or certain Blogs and "feeds" them to you at a certain destination of your choosing. You just wake up in the morning and check what you've caught. RSS feeds will put your blog right in there with news from the Associated Press.

Take Podcasting. The audio files of a Boston public radio station had only about 150 people downloading until they switched to podcasting in October. Now they have eighty thousand "subscribers."

And advertisers are starting to piggyback onto blogs. How else are advertisers going to get to us when we only get together for the Superbowl once a year. It's called niche marketing and niches have a habit of turning into something bigger. Maybe people aren't searching for the key word, "wild salmon," but linking on the blogosphere to wine, vegetables, or rice you increase your readership vastly.

And lastly, "the winners will be those who host the very best conversations. "

Friday, May 27, 2005

Salmon Derby time

While surfing the net tonight I saw a link to KFSK radio in Petersburg. I couldn't resist hearing some news from my old stomping grounds. It turned out to be a bi-weekly public trading program featuring sets of tires and fish tank supplies. But it was also the opening day of the annual salmon derby. Now that really perked up my ears. Emily somebody had taken just sixteen minutes to run out, catch, and bring back the first king salmon for whatever prize that garnered. Seems that Emily is somewhat of a specialist in bringing in the first king, not her first or second even.

Seems that another derby participant has a penchant for finding the biggest ones too. He is the son-in-law of one of the original fishing guides in Petersburg, probably the first real serious one. Andy used to get us kids to take out people that were staying at his motel. I only took out one of his guests, but we did ok. I had tried to jig some herring for bait but wasn't having any luck. So I took the client over to the cold storage, climbed up a ladder, went into a holding room and pried off a couple of frozen herring from a fifty pound block with a screwdriver. Andy had said if you're not catching anything, drop down to just above the bottom and maybe you'll get a halibut. So that's what we ended up doing, but we caught a king salmon instead. That guy was from someplace where he had only caught little crappies and he lugged that king up and down main street proud as anything.

This is getting to be the peak of the king salmon run that is heading for the mouth of the Stikine River about twenty miles from Petersburg. This is the first year gillnetting for kings has been allowed for decades. My brother is out there now gillnetting, carrying on an Enge tradition of gillnetting near the mouth of the Stikine stretching back a hundred years. Arnold has worked for years on the U.S. - Canada Salmon Treaty Negotiating Team to try build up that run. I guess his work has paid off.

My first commercial fishing experience was with my grandfather up in the muddy waters of the North Arm when we were the only boat in sight. Of course I was so small I mostly only remember climbing around in the foc'sle of the gas boat. But I saw a picture of me recently sitting beside my grandfather while he rowed his gillnet skiff. (In those days he anchored the net in the channel and picked it with the big flat bottomed skiff.)

But back to the derby. The king salmon derby of the Memorial Day weekend is quite the institution now. I don't think I ever bought a ticket myself, but helped get it going. Ken Raddick, a Forest Service employee back in 1980, should be given the credit. He started a Jaycees chapter in Petersburg about that time. One of the first things they did was start a king salmon derby. The second year they asked me to fabricate an aluminum cleaning table to bolt to the floats in the boat harbor so people would have a good place to clean their salmon after they had been weighed. I saw in some much later year that someone had put a plaque on that cleaning station giving some state program the credit for installing it. It was the proceeds of the first salmon derby that funded the first cleaning table. Needless to say, I handed that plaque back in to the nearest Fish and Game office.

I didn't weigh any fish that second year either, but my I drew up the boundaries and wrote the rules for the first brochure. They made me the President of the Petersburg Jaycees after that. The derby was off and running from then on. I put the northern boundaries a long ways out, but just shy of waters I had always gotten bounced around pretty good in. Besides it was getting close to traditional commercial trolling grounds. I had some good fishing holes out there quite a ways that I wanted included, but I left for my banking career the next winter and have never fished those holes again. Not that I'm the only one that knows about them though. One of them is a great place to fish from a real small skiff as I'm inclined to do now.

A couple of other Jaycees, Dave and Nancy Berg, need a lot of the credit for getting the derby going in Petersburg. And they've done a lot through the years for the visitor industry in Petersburg. Having the travel agency there I'm sure provided a little impetus. New blood in a little town like that is always a good thing. There just isn't much room for new blood in these little coastal villages in Alaska though. The things that have really helped are new ideas as opposed to new goods or services. Hence my hunch that discussing all the issues in a public forum like over the internet has a better chance of flushing up the next good idea.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

"Write the vision..........."

Anyone who has spent a good block of time on the water gets to a point of feeling a certain "oneness" with the environment. I was trolling out of Port Alexander at the time when this happened to me. I had been out most of the spring and summer by then, coming in to deliver fish and then dash back to the grounds. This was back when there were 152 days of king fishing in the summer and the coho season didn't close at all. When we were kids fishing for herring off the floats in Petersburg to sell to the trollers, I got my first glimpse of this lifestyle. There are books on trolling by lifelong trollers like Caldwell and Marilyn George. Personally I'm one for experiencing something as opposed to watching someone else experience it. That's why I've only been to one football game in my life and don't watch hardly any sports on television.

We started skiff fishing for halibut maybe a couple of years after our trolling bait gig. Twenty five cents a pound for halibut was a far cry from a dollar and a quarter for a bucket of herring. We may not have made that much money fishing within shouting distance from town, but we did catch a big one once in Scow Bay. I don't remember bringing it back so maybe we lost it. I think it would have been wise if we did let it loose. But we probably knocked it off the hook or something. I'll never forget seeing a huge head on one side of the boat and a lot of tail extending out from the other side. It almost looked like we had run aground. I also remember frying up a couple of halibut cheeks waiting for the tide to come up to our beached skiff, then making a dash for the church potluck at dark. Such was growing up in a fishing village.

What's the point? I said I'd try to say something with a point. The point is, is that you don't get that feeling of being just one more organism in the whole batch of the rest of them when you're dashing around competing with other fishermen. I've fished in a lot of derbies, as modern commercial fishing is termed. It's a great feeling when you "experience" your role in the prey - predator relationship and in the patterns of weather and sea states. It gets you hooked, figuratively speaking of course. Why give it up and go stress yourself out dealing with traffic and resumes and lattes and office politics and...... Well, I did give it up for the lattes and all for a bunch of years. A guys got to do what a guys got to do, as they say. I was always trying to figure a way to rig the tag line to slice kelp islands in half of rig the fish finder to scan for salmon ahead or something. That was driving me nuts. That's when I started innovating in lots of different kinds of things, what I think I was born to do.

But it was being out by myself, battling a living out of the ocean that brought the clarity to get on track. A lot of young men take over their father's boats, and that's great for some of them, but it's not the right cup of tea for others. I should know. I was fixing to follow in my father's footsteps in the processing business by getting an appropriate education, lots of experience. I ran into one company VP that didn't think the President was aware that he had a college degree. That was my experience too. Finese had no real place in the processing business. You needed to chomp on a cigar and "take a little when they aren't looking and give a little when they are." I just didn't fit in. I wasted a lot of years finding that out, unfortunately.

I've always been pretty sensitive to right and wrong and the processing business just didn't feel right. What I think is the problem is that the basic premise is amiss. It's just that times have changed. A long time ago, there needed to be someone who knew the business, from catching to distribution, and that was the processor alone. When the processors were forced to let salmon fishermen into the loop after statehood, it then became important to keep marketing control. A lot of means were used and I won't get into that here, but look now at the distribution of state grants for marketing. A couple of processors got over a million dollars each......to market whose fish? Obviously they and the grantors believe the fish is the processors, and by title it is. But just think about this for a minute.

Why do the fishermen have to give up title to the fish? Fishermen have been content with this relationship is most of the reason. The big processors have brought a lot to bear on the fishermen's contentedness factor: year end bonuses (that the crew doesn't see a lot of the time), banquets, scholarships, sponsorship of a myriad of functions and in general promoting a climate of reliance, and trust. This may all be well and good, but personally I think a lot of processors use it to maintain the status quo so they can take the occasional windfall profit on the marketing end. In a bad market scenario, they can shuck the bonuses and drop the prices for all species until they make up their losses on the one species.

"Oh, but we wouldn't do that." Well I say, why did the processor's lobbyist threaten to get fisheries staff at the state fired for not cooperating with them, and why was I told to "keep my nose out of it" by the Seattle office of the National Food Processors Association. Big money talks. Not that fishermen don't have big money, they just haven't wanted to form a kitty to represent themselves in the marketplace and see what can happen. Lack of vision? Not on some fishermen's parts, but to reach a critical mass, a lot of fishermen have to see the same vision. This is really generalizing, and that's not entirely fair. It's simply an example. Blogs aren't any place to get into too much detail.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Seine boat cruises

I got thinking about using an Alaska limit purse seiner as a charter boat after talking to my brother Arnold last week. My son Daniel is going to gillnet with him this summer on his smaller boat so his big boat is just sitting around. Man, do I know what to do with it to show some people a good time. There is one other seiner I know of doing this too. I ran into a retired metals company manager from Oregon who would hire a large troller in Petersburg to take him out fishing for King Salmon too. It's a way under-utilized option for the serious Alaska adventure visitor. It's not a well known fact that you can hire any boat to do anything.

All commercial vessels are loaded with safety gear for the sake of their crews, as per Coast Guard regulations. I used to take the guys at the cannery out in the speed boat in the summers as much as time allowed. I liked exploring and giving them a thrill, and they got a thrill. We hiked to lakes, shot mountain goats and ducks, caught salmon, trout, halibut and anything else we could. I helped the cannery carpenter and his wife put up a barrel of salt salmon to take home in the fall to make pickled salmon, kippered salmon, etc.

The way I see it is that a client group of up to six should have the option of cooking for themselves. Cooking is important business out on the water. Seems you're always hungry with all that good seafood for the cooking. The clients would pay all the expenses and then depending, you ask for something for your time and experience. I would like to see folks who are really researching opportunities in Alaska take such a trip. There is plenty of time while running to talk politics, industrial development, tourism, real estate and a net full of other topics.

Maybe over time I'll post some cool excursions I've taken in my own boats and on other boats, from Seattle to Bristol Bay. Most of my boatingh experience is around Southeast Alaska; commercial trolling my own boat, being a fleet manager and fish buyer, hunting, camping, and sport fishing. My father, John also, was managing the big Cold Storage plant in Pelican when I came into the world and his bookkeeper made out a Uniform Fish Ticket to my dad for "one large baby boy." I started boating when I was maybe one year old, because Arnold is two years older and he fell off the seat into water in the botton of the boat before we got started on one outing. Since then I've taken piloting from the Navy at OSU and manned the wheel of boats up to 185 feet. Although with radar, GPS, and computer chart programs, it's pretty hard to not know where you are at all times any more.

I think the client should decide where to go, how long to stay at each anchorage, whether to just stay cruising, what to fish for, and about anything else. Why not let the client feel like he is the owner of a yacht. You could also set up a time-share situation with the captain as just an extension of the boat. That would be the cheapest way to go if you wanted to come back over the years to try to see a good piece of Coastal Alaska. The coast of Alaska is a ways longer than it is around the world. About 35,000 miles compared to about 24,000 miles.

There's a lot to explore and make records of. Alaska has been explored in the accessible parts pretty well, but not nearly as well documented. For example, I found an unusual flower on a hike to a lake to go swimming one summer and found that little flower to have the sweetest, most appealing scent I had ever experienced. I know for a fact that perfumers are sending people all over the world looking for new scents. That retiring little flower might be the next big thing to hit Paris.

There aren't many marine resources left to utilize that aren't being fully utilized already. There are some though that aren't common knowledge. There are wrecks, old mines, caves, and abandoned canneries to explore. There are probably a lot of sites of antiquity left to be discovered. Someone I know well found a museum quality stone pestel hammer well back of the beach when he lifted up a stump with a crane. There are a lot of gem quality rocks around, a lot of good seasoned wood to scavange from the Tongass National Forest and other things that you could harvest without any difficulty, ie., kelp and seaweed. And with a seiner, you have a cargo hold to put it all in.

With a big work deck you can take small vehicles to lighter to shore anywhere or off-load to a dock or remote road system. My ideal for a relaxing adventure is to take rowing skiffs along on deck to use to troll for king salmon the old-fashioned way. The stealth aspect makes it a perfect platform to fish near-shore, on a shallower drag and in calm water. I don't care if there are kings out off-shore, all the combat aspects of that kind of fishing is a little self-defeating for clients looking to relax a little. (See my post on The Joys of Rowing.) Well, there are almost as many possibilities as people. A time-share boat could be used to commercial fish in the fleet too, the crew would just change all the time.

I'm talking about inside waters, as Alaskans call them. Everything but the roughest water on the "inside" can be sliced like butter with an Alaska limit seiner. They call them that because the Legislature made 58 feet at the waterline the longest a salmon purse seine vessel could be to fish in Alaska. A tuna seiner could really haul in the salmon but it wouldn't provide many jobs for Alaskan families. It's kind of a long story why there are extra limit seiners around these days. Arnold's came from Canada where the government paid fishermen to stop fishing because there were too many boats for the amount of salmon these days. Maintaining these boats is somewhat of a chore and can't be left alone.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Fisheries Associations: Part IV

If I download from my cranial files a post a day, I'll be happy. Don't know how long it will take, but it's something I feel strongly about. Like in, I'd paddle from Prince Rupert to Juneau in a cast iron bathtub it that's what it would take. I know there is a lot of passion in the fleet, my brother Arnold is a U.S. - Canada Salmon Treaty negotiator. But the harvesting sector needs to focus it's energy like a laser beam. This probably won't happen real soon, but it's a great thought. Words are powerful and good words are like planting seed, they do yield a crop of good things eventually. Be very careful of the flip side of "good words" though.

Today I want to make clear a chronology of events that I saw leading up to the Regional Fisheries Associations. I saw and did more than anyone else I know of. Not to say that someone else didn't have a passion for it like I did, I just don't know of anyone and I talked to everyone. Some state employees had to work to implement the rules established by the legislature and I'm sure some of these folks saw the light to an elevated extent, maybe one became the new "fisheries association evangelist." Well, here goes.

  • It started when the President of CFAB invited an ex-director of Florida Citrus Mutual to Anchorage to speak about primary producers taking back control of their product.
  • While at CFAB I talked to the NFPA about permitting the Norwegian seamer that will do 26 different size cans. The Director told me "keep your nose out of it, sonny." To use banking parlance, that raised a big red flag over the product development process in my mind.
  • When I was at the state DCED I tested a "small processor association" idea by getting a bunch together to brainstorm structural impediments. Out of that the Kake Cold Storage got running again.
  • While working with 26 different big and small communities on infrastructure development, I found that the chief concern was more jobs, not infrastructure. That led to my writing a paper on the association concept as pertains the fishing industry.
  • The City Manager of Cordova asked me what they could do to help jump-start the fishing industry in PWS, so I sent her a copy of my "associations white paper."
  • She gave it to their legislator who gave it to his aide to draft a bill to start the fisheries association. The aide only had one summer at a Cordova cannery under his belt and the bill failed in the Legislature.
  • The bill called for another tax on the fish, which I hadn't included in my paper Under Hickel, the association was shelved in lieu of giving ASMI another 1% tax.
  • When I left state service in 1991, I got minor support to pursue the idea from the Alaska Business Development Center, the Community Enterprise Development Corporation, and Prime Alaska Seafoods Inc.
  • I then started a newletter to interject the idea, along with other "intelligence," which of course I called the "Fisheries Intelligence Newsletter." My father financed it, but it was not a commercial success.
  • One subscriber to FIN, Ray Wadsworth, was a innovative boat builder and Alaska fisherman who eventually held up the idea at a meeting in Ballard that was called to discuss the super-low humpy prices that were being quoted by the processors.
  • A hot-shot negotiator with the Dallas Cowboys was hired to show the owners of the processing companies that they had to treat fishermen like the small business men that they are. The processors conceded to base the ex-vessel prices on the market price of the canned salmon. There was a lot of hoopla and misunderstanding that summer because there wasn't enough time to get a good state-wide organization going.
  • Ray Wadsworth was voted out as Chairman by the fishermen who put up the money for the negotiator and pursued only fish price negotiations until even that waned.
  • In the spring of 2003 I heard about the windfall fisheries development monies the state got and found that some low level fisheries staff were reviewing proposals to spend it.
  • I wrote the Governor, the Lt. Governor, and the state economic development folks a 15 page letter spelling a lot of this out and asking if they could have the Legislative Research Agency do a comparison of "the institute vs the association" as a way to develop appropriate products and effective marketing strategies designed for those products.
  • In March 2005 the law allowing fishermen to form regional associations that could tax themselves kicked into gear. Some regions had a head-start from prior endeavours, such as the Copper River fishermen.
  • Wrangell put in the proposal for a Southeast association just recently. They probably realized that many of the big Petersburg boats were Icicle stockholders and weren't going to take the lead on this. The Petersburg boats didn't "strike" like a lot of the boats did that first year, they just took the extra seven cents a pound that Icicle "matched." Albie Hofstad told me it saved their season that year.

Fisheries Associations: Part III

Blogs haven't quite surpased traditional media as far as influencing the world goes. The blogosphere has been around for about a year and Reuters News Service says their poll shows the two genres are about neck and neck. Not bad as far as revolutions go. It is a classic example of a "disruptive technology." This is a good thing. People immediately catch on to the fact that a better mousetrap has come along and get one for themselves. It's only natural. The wheel beat the heck out of skids.

Speaking of better ideas trumping bad ideas, I believe Alaska is finally seeing a good idea in the form of the regional fisheries associations. This is the ground floor of that movement in Alaska. The rest of the U.S. has had a head-start of many decades. About 3/4 ths of a century in the case of oranges. Did we all notice that Tree Top, that association of 1700+ apple growers, just got a contract to supply McDonalds with 57 million lbs of apples. Who would you go to in Alaska if you wanted 57 million lbs of some kind of seafood? And who would be representing fishermen's best interests.

Alaska has always been a little slow to get on the bandwagon. It was always behind the rest of the world even in fishing technology. Communications is a large part of the problem. It used to be that just the big processors could afford to fly back to Washington D.C. to make their interests known, hence long delayed statehood. Since then it has been a monopoly of information about the industry coming from the lobbyists for the processors association. They had two lobbyists in D.C and one in Juneau all this time. They had serious money to spend as well. Now we have blogging, which Business Week likens to the invention of the Guttenberg Press.

Alaska fishermen need to blog full tilt boogie to catch up. Rational thought is obvious in print, just like scams are obvious in print. Blogging is the epitome of the democratic process. Some parts of our democratic process are a little wierd, like the electoral college. We think we are voting for a President, but we're really voting for electoral college representatives. A county commissioner I had lunch with yesterday pointed that out. He also noted that the small timber land owners and loggers have suffered at the hands of the mills down here like fishermen have at the hands of the processors in Alaska. The mills could have done a better job of making products that would have generated higher margins so the harvesters could have made more for their labor.

I think we are entering a new era now, an Alaska "glastnost." Things are coming out in the open that never could have before. I worked for a year and a half on a fisheries infrastructure white paper while at the state and only the Tundra Times and the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce newsletter printed it. I had even secured a professional writer to make it short and "hip." Maybe it would have made more of a difference. Some serious players like the folks at Dutch Harbor and at the shipyard in Ketchikan said they changed their strategic plans based on my paper. We need to get out more information to decision makers. Now it is the fishermen who have to make a decision about supporting an association that will look out for their best interests in the market-place. They have had organizations to look out for their interests in the political realm but have neglected this other very important element of their business.

As the blogosphere heats up, businesses are paying bloggers to create a buzz around their products. All kinds of schemes are being used involving blogging to make money. There is no one best business model. Some folks are hiring writers to blog on certain subjects to create a critical mass of hits to get advertisers. I don't abide by this approach, just cranking out drivel to get hits. The Vice-Chairman of GM started a blog which was an instant hit because he aired negative comments as well as the positive aspects of GM vehicles. But he is only part of GMs blog strategy. Creating links to other influential bloggers is a first step.

Innovation is the watchword in the blogosphere as anywhere. You don't know what is going to be your next step necessarily. I remember when we were having hearings on the DOT proposed system of shuttle ferries in S.E. Alaska. These were just dog and pony shows by DOT. I got on the Petersburg Transportation Committee, but we weren't getting our message across that, for one, you wouldn't be able to freight fresh fish in standard containers with the smaller ferries.

So I started an e-mail discussion to get comments directly to about two dozen local folks and state employees and legislators. I would forward any comment to everybody. Pretty soon everyone could see the cons as well as the pros. I remember one comment I made went like this. "How do you know if the weather at the proposed new terminal site is acceptable when DOT just flew over it in a helicopter in good weather once? Why not put a web-cam in a tree out there for a few months or more and look at the site in all types of weather? Loggers have told me this is a gawd-awful place for a ferry terminal."

So, blog and blog some more. We need to make up for the lack of discussion over the last 100 years. Did you know that the prevailing attitude among processors was, "give a little when they are looking and take a little when they aren't." That's no way to run a railroad and it's no way for wild fish to take back market share from freak fish.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Fisheries Associations: Part II

When I started work at CFAB in 1984 as the Collateral Control Officer, we were financing 14 processing plants. That dropped to less than a half dozen by the time I left five years later. The CFAB board and management wasn't into letting a processor lose money even one year. There were a lot of mistakes made by processors, but some, like Kodiak Alaska Seafoods operated flawlessly. But being the new kid on the block with canned salmon, they had to send a lot of it overseas and an exchange rate fluxuation killed them. KASI also didn't get the fish from a lot of the fishermen that pledged their assets to make the plant work.

The prior CFAB president and then Ed Crane attempted to approach the problem of marketing the fishermen's catch by suggesting fishermen become better businessmen. The hunter-gatherer mentality runs deep in the Alaska fishing industry. The plant owners and operators largely came from the harvesting sector too. Hence the competition among processors and not the collaboration. Of course by law they couldn't collude on prices paid the fishermen, but they could collaborate on processing technology and marketing innovation. But as my father, a life-time fish buyer and industry kingpin said, "we were doing just fine so we didn't need to do anything different."

The competitive nature of current day processing is no different, and maybe even more entrenched. There are only a couple of large processors now to buy the huge majority of the catch of all species. Some of these I know to be real shrewd operators. Currently, the relationship between processor and fisherman is really slightly acidic and has been for a long time. There was more peace back in the days when the cannery superintendent was reverenced more than in Sunday worship services. This power and prestige is tough to give up for those operators who have their roots in that mentality. But the fishermen own the fish first and they are really the head and not the tail.

The processors in Alaska established a system a long time ago in which they gain title to the fish and then can control the marketing. The end price is not a great concern as they make their money out of the middle. If the fisherman gets a low price for the fish, they still make their margin. If the consumer gets stiffed on quality, they still make their margin. The way I see it, the processors love to see the fishermen all divided into about fifty factions, all fighting among themselves. Then the attention is off the real problem of control of the product.

After all, the processors have consistently coughed up about three million dollars a year to make sure there are no cracks in the status quo. Ever wonder why the boards of ASMI, CFAB and others are made up mostly of seafood company owners, and in ASMIs case they weren't even Alaska residents. The processors are better businessmen, no doubt about that. This $3 million a year went a long way to help lay a mine field of regulations to deter fishermen from vertically integrating and others from getting a foothold in the processing arena. Harold Kalve in Anchorage had to get eighteen permits before he could process and market his own fish.

The point is that fishermen in Alaska need to get together to take back control of their own product. Most of the Lower 48 has already gone this route. Tree Top, which is a brand for over 1,700 apple growers just got a contract to provide McDonalds with 57 million pounds of apples a year. This would never have happened sans their association. It would be interesting to know what the critical mass should be for an association. I suspect it is larger than the regions that the State of Alaska promoted and passed a law for. What they did this spring is a great start though. Now an association can form, with the blessings of the State and some seed money, in the major regions. Their rationalle was a comparison of salmon flavors to the different flavors of wine in France. I think that's a stretch. Time will tell. After all, these regional associations can always get together at any time for their mutual benefit.

Fisheries Associations; Part I

A past executive director of Florida Citrus Mutual came to Anchorage to tell his experiences with his trade association to the Com Fish exposition in the late '80s. I was working at the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank at the time and Ed Crane was the new President. Ed had been involved in agricultural banking in Washington state prior to coming to Alaska. Ed invited John St. John up because the Florida orange story was a classic example of successful product development and marketing innovation. The handwriting was on the wall with pen raised salmon, if you can call them that. Those pen raised Atlantics taste like a washed out steelhead. They might look like a kind of salmon because they grow them big, but personally I think it's a crime they are being called salmon.
I've seen trout almost as big in a pond at my dads boss' house in Seattle. The two of them were running Kayler-Dahl Fish Co. in Petersburg back then when I was stopping through on the way back from college in the late '60s and early '70s. I don't know who hatched the plan, but dad got his crab and shrimp foreman to put up tons of shrimp meal at the plant in Petersburg and dads old professor at U of W concocted a fish pellet. Chris owned the company and was always trying to innovate. They almost had the first shrimp peeling machine perfected when one got made down in Florida.
So, Chris dug out about a 3/4 acre pond at his house and started feeding trout. Jim Brennan and I took some feed down to the pond and those trout started swarming around before we threw in the first hand-full. It was a little unnerving the way they acted like pirhana on a beef steak in the Amazon River. They were getting to be about the size of humpies by then. I guess Dr. Donaldson went around the world after that, like Johnny Appleseed, spreading the news about fish feed pellets.
This has been a great boon to the economies of at least a dozen nations. Those Atlantics and coho are being sold in a lot of places besides the United States. But we should have looked ahead atwhere our marketing and product development was going. Marketing was going somewhere at least. Not far enough as it turns out, but it looked like there was a plan with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute forming from the old Alaska King Crab Quality and Marketing Control Board.
The king crab board had been wildly successful in bringing king crab to the mainstream restaurant. My dad had a key part in getting Frank Horsley's advertising agency in Seattle over Wakefield's grey suited ad agency out of Chicago. It was assumed that the same structure would work on salmon and the other species too. The difference is that king crab was unheard of and the other of seafood were already well known. King crab in melted butter is also a lot more appealing than canned salmon with skin, bones and all, or a temperature abused whole semi-bright chum being sold as a "pacific salmon."
I what made Florida Citrus Mutual successful was first product development, then marketing. They had the same problem with having a product that barely sold outside of the state of Florida because they didn't know how to ship it. So they came up with frozen concentrate and shipping oranges in containers full of ethylene gas. (I'll never forget the name of that gas because I have a nice scar on my hand from making it in high school chemistry lab.)
It might be worth noting here that some folks set up a plant in Anchorage in the early '90s just to test storing fresh salmon in exotic gasses. When they had a container full of headed and gutted salmon in wetlocks stored in gas for a couple of weeks, they had the folks in the know come over and smell them. Apparently most people thought they were about three days old. Then these guys shut down the plant and disappeared.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Alaska Adventure 101

We took a speed boat from Petersburg about five miles north up Frederick Sound to a nice beach and creek called, guess what, Five Mile Creek. The beach would be a more popular place to picinic if it didn't have a virgin forest right in back of it blocking the sun. The end of June it doesn't matter much. The sun is pretty much overhead then and there's more in a day than you can stand when the weather is good. But hanging out on the beach was always a second choice to hiking up the creek to the lake.
We started going to Five Mile when we were pretty young. I don't know if dad was partial to it for it's comparative advantages over other recreation areas or it just held a special place in his heart from rowing out there when he was young. We started hiking up to the lake when Steve was not quite old enough to make it all the way. It is a two and a half mile hike through woods and muskeg, your typical Southeast Alaska hike. Muskeg isn't the easiest to hike in, especially uphill. Good thing muskeg has to be relatively flat to even exist. Only about 20% of the hike to Colps Lake is muskeg though.
That first hike to the lake when I was about seven was probably life changing. The long hike, but made easier by the comeraderie of family, with the sense of accomplishment at the end. The last slog through thinning trees, wondering if the lake will be over the next rise. Then finally taking in the breathtaking beauty of a forgotton alpine lake surrounded on three sides by steeply rising mountains. Even though you know that lake is going to freeze your whatever off, just the thought of all that cool water and the heat and tiredness just ebb right out of you.
Talk about trout in that lake. I always thought that you could tie a dozen small herring hooks on with a salmon egg on each one and haul in a dozen trout at a time. The come at your hook in a school up there. I guess that clear water has them good and hungry all the time. I also heard that it's a subspecies of the cutthroats. Whatever the case, it sure is fun for a little guy to catch them. And a big guy. I went up there once and cooked up a mess of about ten inchers like a clam bake.
I made a good fire with some bigger pieces of wood as a base for the fire. Then I plopped a mound of spaughm moss over that, then a layer of trout a thin layer of more moss then a layer of skunk cabbage leaves. The leaves wilt together when steam starts to come up and seals in the steam. You crack it all open after the steam has had a reasonable chance to work on the trout and you have a real Colps Lake feast. (The regulations on fishing have changed since then, so not sure I can recommend that anymore.) I don't know where I got the idea, but those were the best trout I've ever had. The moss imparts a real nice aroma and counteracts any fishy flavors. I think any seafood would be good cooked that way. There isn't a lot of that kind of moss around though.
This is the first lake that comes to mind when I think of taking my boys on a real great day trip. A lot of the elements of a real Alaska safari are here. We started going to Five Mile when we first got to use the family boat with the 18 horse outboard. We'd camp in the old warehouse at the mouth of the creek and sleep on the old seine web. In the night you could hear the black bears splashing after humpies and dog salmon in the shallows. We'd walk up the creek and chase salmon through the shallows as Alaskan kids are wont to do.
This creek was the last place I recall my dad taking the family boat to by himself. Both were starting to show their age by then. I know the boat lasted only a few more years. He's still going strong twenty five years later. I think he just wanted to get in one more good look. His Grandparents had been the first couple to settle in Petersburg and he had seen most efforts to wring all the salmon possible out of that creek. I suspect he wondered if the salmon runs were coming back with the better fisheries management in the state after not being to the creek in many years.
Of course the big sand beach slopes down to a clam beach. I've fished for dolly varden at high tide off the rocks at the north end of the beach. Reidar Enge liked to longline greycod on a set from the waterfall just north of Five Mile towards Sokoi Island light, a mile and a half off the sand beach. We used to go out there in the spring to hunt hooters. (not from the restraunt chain) The slopes were steep in the valley the creek is in. You could locate a grouse pretty easy in the top of his tree by climbing up hill directly across from his hooting. Steve got his first grouse just inside the woods behind the sand beach. Steve hit the grouse every shot, just not seriously enough. We remember him breaking both wings and one leg before shooting it in the other leg.
The chances of running into other people hiking around Southeast Alaska is next to zero. That's a good thing in a way, but you have to bring company with you if you want to talk.

The pleasures of rowing

After work at the cannery one evening, I rowed out with the tide into Frederick Sound. The double end 12 foot plank skiff made good time, especially with a six knot current running. I always give the red can at Ness' Point at the edge of the harbor a wide birth. There is a scholarship fund at Petersburg High honoring Clifford Mort Foss, who drowned when his skiff was sucked in behind that channel marker and turned over.
There aren't many dangers in store for the rowing enthusiast, but that's one of them. Another is tying up to a piling when the tide is coming in. The skiff could be pulled under. Or, as you see on occasion, the tide goes out and the skiff is left hanging in the air by it's bow line. My grandfather did prohibit my father and his brother from sailing their skiff out the Narrows once. But their bravado might have turned to disaster as the outgoing tide was being met by a good Southeast swell and creating a cauldron of combers at the mouth of the Narrows.
It was calm as a mirror in the Sound the day I went, so I kept going toward Horn Cliffs. No point in trying to get back in the Narrows until the tide turned anyway. The seven mile row was easy in that little East Coast style life skiff. It had been made by Davis and Sons of Metlakatla well before WWII. Davis and Sons used to make hundreds of the 12 foot and 14 foot models for the hand trollers in the '30s. They would row up from Washington state in large groups, sailing and hitching rides from gas boats as the opportunity arose. They headed for Southeast Alaska to tow cuddy hunk lines for the big king salmon that were feeding there before making their run for the Columbia. When the Bonneville dam was put in that pretty much ended that era.
But many of their boats were passed from one hand to another for years after until they almost all became no longer serviceable. Dad bought one of the few left when we were kids and we kept it up through the years. I never lost my interest in rowing, even after we graduated to a 3 horsepower outboard, then an 18 horse, a 20 horse, a 40 horse a 55 horse and then later I bough a 200 horse. My brothers eventually gave our skiff to a fiberglass man who turned it into a plug to make a mould to pop off duplicates. The three of us each have a replica of the original one, only in fiberglass. But there's no maintenance on them anymore, and mine has floatation tanks built in.
There have been several attempts part us with our rowing skiffs. Sealaska Corporation has a museum and they wanted our original skiff because it was a rare example of the work of a famous Alaska Native family. Later a guy from L.A. wanted to buy Arnold's double-ender. He was in a rowing club in L.A. and wanted it bad. I suppose if someone wanted to market them, we could start duplicating one of ours.
Rowing to Horn Cliff wasn't work at all. I just remember the nice weather and stopping at McDonald Island to gather a bucket of mussels to steam up later. They were good sized ones and I think I prefer them now to clams. A lot more tender and just as flavorful. I remember there was a big gas turbine yacht drifting around on my route to McDonald Island and they took off full bore when I got within a mile of them. Quite a contrast in ways to enjoy the solitude of the Sound.
There's not much wildlife to see crossing an open body of water, and my grandfather would have frowned on such a pleasure trip. There's always the risk that the wind can come up all of a sudden and make for a grueling scramble for shelter. The old timers weren't into such pastimes. My grandfather had had to row soil from one island to another in Norway to get enough to grow a garden in. Rowing these days is to drain the stress of cramped city living, not some survival thing. Although it could be a good Outward Bound adventure.
Petersburg kids had been rowing across the Narrows and up Petersburg Creek a few miles for at least fifty years before I started doing it. You row up with the tide and come out with the tide and fish the holes for salmon and trout coming and going. It's hard to beat. Very relaxing. My father always made a point to row up the creek with my much younger sisters. It was a rite of passage in the Enge family.
No matter where you row, in open water or along the shore with it's more abundant life, you have a lot of time to observe and think about what's going on around you. It's just not the same as screaming along with an outboard motor, although I enjoyed that for a lot of years. I think the best way to get close to a lot of wildlife is with a rowboat with an electric trolling motor. Then you don't have the sound and movement of the oars to spook the game. This is especially true of getting close to bears that graze along the beaches in Southeast Alaska. This would be a new phenomenon for Alaska.
One trip I would like to make in my double-ender is around the Islands at the mouth of the Stikine river in the fall. The migratory birds stop there by the load. You get all the different geese and ducks, sandhill cranes, snow geese, and if you're lucky you can bag a moose. I'm really more into shooting with a camera anymore, though. There's a lot of other trips I'd like to make by hauling the skiffs around on a fishing boat and getting dropped off somewhere until the boat comes back around for me. Or just use a fishing boat that isn't working. Arnold has a dandy 58 footer I'd love to have an excuse to charter with. He uses his smaller boat for gillnetting salmon in the summer.
Ideas, ideas: being free to go now really has me thinking. I'd sure like to share my knowledge of and excitement for Southeast Alaska. I've always enjoyed taking people out on the water up there. Having kids with disabilities has me interested in taking out with others with disabilities. They and single folk that need their batteries recharged with some Alaska excitement. I remember when our kids were young, we had four in diapers at the same time, and I couldn't get out and it was getting to me. A friend rented a four-wheel drive truck and drug my oldest son and me out moose hunting near Anchorage. It really got me firing on all cylinders again.
That's where the need is and it has to be done in a way that's economical. Commercial fishing boats are definitely economical; the low price of salmon has made sure of that.

Monday, May 09, 2005

"Passport Alaska"

Maybe you've seen the "Passport Alaska" before and wondered how it came about and what happened to it. I sold 25,000 of them in Alaska in the three years I had them in the gift shops there, but it wasn't a stand-alone business as it turned out. I might have been if the cruise lines didn't have a policy of getting all their Alaskana from Taiwan manufacturers. They bring in the bulk of the visitors and pretty much keep them captive in their facilities. In Southeast Alaska the cruise ships do let the visitors wander around in the bigger ports where they stop, to shop, flightsee or whatever. Well, I won't get into a whole narrative here on independent travel as opposed to hearded travel.

This will be the first of the projects I'll describe that I've completed in the past. This one started in 1990 when I was in between running Capitol Seafoods and managing the Fisheries Infrastructure capital project for the state. It is one of my favorite projects, because of the way I heard God tell me to "start writing" and then seeing it become maybe the top selling gift item in the 100 gift shops we put it in.

Starting this Blog project is really the outgrowth of thinking how I could start getting it out again. I wouldn't be able to get a loan to get it going now like I did at first when I had a state job. Getting that loan was a miracle in itself; a loan on just a concept. I had been a loan officer and collateral control officer at a commercial bank for five years, so I knew I was doing good to get that loan.

We had been back to Wisconsin to meet the in-laws that spring, while waiting for the state funding to go through for the infrastructure research project. Kathleen had been getting premature contractions carring Elias about this time. We contacted an herbalist on Bainbridge Island, WA who sent up a little bottle of twelve extracts, including ladies mantle. That knocked out the contractions and we flew to Wisconsin shortly after to spend ten days.

In our travels around Wisconsin in a motor home we found a Wisconsin memento passport. Jesse, our oldest son, was eight at the time and latched onto that Passport like a vice grip pliers. We thought it was a good concept for an Alaska memento but we were busy for the next six months with a new baby and a new job that required a lot of travel. One day in he first week of January, 1991, Kathleen and Jesse prayed about our making a "passport" for Alaska. As it turned out, God had spoken to me the same minute that they prayed; they on the Douglas side of the channel and me in the State Office Building.

So, what choice did I have then. It took until spring to do the research and get mock-ups and the loan. Then the printer kept putting the passport under the pile of state printing jobs, so we didn't get it printed until fall. The last of the tourists that year who did see it were ecstatic about it. I'll never forget the old boy I watched that picked one out of the display at the DIPAC Aquarium in Juneau, glance through it, then slammed it on the counter, and deftly whipped out his wallet. I knew then we got it right.

The problem with the Wisconsin passport was that every two pages were dedicated to a different state symbol. Someone had to really dig for symbols to fill the little booklet, so you ended up having two pages on the state dirt, the state bug and so on. I was struck with the idea of just using color photos and bullets of information. Alaska is so big that a lot of unusual things have happened. Like the wave that measured 1,740 feet high, or the gold nugget that was found by a man digging a post hole that was seven inches long, four inches wide and three inches thick.

My dedication to the project only increased when I found people that either didn't know what currency Alaska used or even where Alaska was. (Hence the polar view of Alaska on the map page.) The basic idea was to generate an excitement for Alaska while making a little money at the same time. This proved to be right on the money, especially when the Alaska Convention and Visitors Bureau started buying them by the thousands to give away. They would take them to luncheons they would sponsor in places like Washington D.C., Chicago or Los Angeles for travel agents and tour wholesalers. They would put one by every plate for a couple hundred people at a time. They wrote me later saying that they thought they were getting conventions to Anchorage because of the Passport.

It turned out to be a 32 page booklet with 19 color pictures and the rest bullets of information, lists of trophy fish, places to go and things to do, and some other basic information like climate in the various regions. I wanted to use the title "Alaska Passport" on a blue cover at first. That evolved into a maroon cover and then to "Passport Alaska." I discovered that somebody had made an "Alaska Passport" with blank pages for getting stamped everywhere they went. When we started selling ours to the gift shops, the shop owners were still furious over getting stuck with the other version which was a commercial flop. These people apparently had a business advice radio show too. The new title was a good switch because nobody asked "whats this?" when they saw it on my desk at the state after that.

I only relate the next little story because 85% of all you are professed Christians. The other 15% will just have to grin and bear it. This is the explanation for the logo on the back of the Passport. I was nodding off at the kitchen table one day while I was developing the booklet and had a vision of that logo. It was on the back of a Passport that was really beat up. The line segments that look like they radiate out in four direction from the center were puslating as if alive. I had an artist render the design so we could have a die made to stamp the back covers with. The venture now had a logo, which reminded a Division of Tourism person of something out of Hollywood, so I named the whole venture Coming Attractions.

I left the state in the early spring of '92, after finishing up my fisheries association white paper. We figured we'd drive the highway system in Alaska and sell "Passport Alaska"s to the gift shops. We were able to pick up a motor home at the last minute and off we went. Great time. The kids fit like a glove in that rig. (They'd have to stoop to get in the door now.) We got all the way to the Homer Spit from Skagway and had about a 97% success rate. There was a snafu with the printer that summer as well as the prior one, and each summer after that. Meaning we ran out of passports in the peak of the visitor season without fail.

ACVB bought a lot of passports, but sure weren't willing to help with a reprint. Well, that little policy of theirs wouldn't have cost them any more money and it probably cost the state another convention or two. And maybe I wouldn't have gotten so fed up with agencies and printing companies playing Mr. Big Shot and kept it on the market. I'm actually trying to be positive here. The concensus is that there is way too much criticism in the blogosphere and not enough leadership (is there any?). One reason for even writing all this about the Passport is that it is a classic example of product development that created new demand.

There were two gubanatorial candidates in one campaign that used the Passport for their purposes. One used it as a conversation starter on a trip to the Med. The other held it up on TV and used it as an example of a business start that doesn't harm the environment. (You can probably guess what party that was.) One B&B gave them away to special guests. One jewlery store gave them to customers that would plunk down many hundreds of dollars for gold nugget jewelry. (That's the store in Juneau that heard a French tourist comment on the Passport, "this is the best thing since peanut butter.")

So where does the Passport go from here? God only knows. I'd thought of starting to print them again and offer them on a web site, but that's really messy. I could print them and drive to Alaska and put them in all the gift shops again, which would be expensive too. Or I could post a picture of it on this blog and see what happens. Hmmmm. I might be able to make it downloadable right off this blog. The actual hard copies are really cute though. I needed to round a few Passports up once when I ran out and all my friends knew exactly what drawer or box, (usually the underwear drawer) that they were in, even years after I gave it to them.

I at least want to give my partners in adventure back to Alaska a copy each, whoever they might be. I always got a lot of pleasure giving them away. Maybe the Passport ties in with the urge I have to take some folks on a trip to Alaska that's really tailored to them, and not for the convenience of the guide.