Wednesday, May 18, 2005

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.


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