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 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.


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