Thursday, May 12, 2005

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.


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