Monday, July 18, 2005

A catalyst for industry change

Unsung heroes are still very much a part of how we make changes in the way we work and live. In fact it might be the chief catalyst that spurs government officials and industry executives into action. It's the small guy, the ones that often have nothing to lose, the ones that hope burns bright in and aren't afraid to sweat to try to make something good happen. Take for example Johnny Rice, who put up the site six years ago to help the Alaska commercial fishing industry.

He represents the best of what we look for in the public servant/innovator. He makes his living as a Fleet Logistics Contractor, ensuring high quality communications and the other high tech needs of a fleet of eight salmon seine vessels. Electronics is a necessary evil for a lot of captains, who pretty much use up their mental energies keeping all the other state of the art electrical and mechanical equipment functioning properly. In fact salmon skippers are always mentally scanning every square inch of up to a million dollar fish harvester rig.

His fleet was heading for the West Coast the other daywhen I was trying to call him. The West Coast is a term that is used locally to refer to the salmon fishing grounds to seaward of Prince of Wales Island, and largely means Noyes Island. This is contrasted with the West Coast that I get 50 percent of my blog readers from. Alaska isn't included in the general "West Coast." I only get 20 percent of my readers from Alaska, but's it's the middle of the fishing season too. (Modern technology is also saying that I have Chinese, Portugese, and Spanish readers, to complement the 96 percent English readers around the world. Absolutely amazing!)

Johnny is passionate about working for the general good of the fishing industry like I am, but today I declare that Johnny is the issue of the day. Actually he never stops working behind the scenes for skippers, deckhands, shore workers, plant owners, suppliers, community infrastructure, and the rest of the people that make up Alaska's largest industry by numbers of people.

He had to lead me through some intacacies of on-line publishing. He would have gone on for who knows how long. The problem was, I didn't have a headset to free up my hands to execute the commands on the computer for very much tutoring. You gotta be prepared to learn when you talk to Johnny Rice. (More on this later.)

I'm really flattered that after six years of putting together a commercial fishing and communications technology news feed, he wanted me to write fishing news commentary for him. Actually he feels the same as I do: that it's not about us, but about the industry and about improving communications within the industry and with the world to help jump start returns on investment.

And that it is a given that in a free enterprise system the industry is responsible for doing the right thing to stay competitive. And that anything less will lessen the competitiveness of the industry and shrink the livelihoods of everyone involved, and maybe even jeapordize the existence of coastal communities in Alaska. People know right from wrong instinctively, they just need good information to take it from there.

For example, Bristol Bay might be having a good year, but that shouldn't make us complacent. The prices still aren't that hot. It is a better opportunity for those fishermen to all get together under one Trade Name. And I emphasize the word ONE. There is no model that I know of that would support more in an area like the Bay. In the global scheme of things even Bristol Bay isn't that big. The fishermen-leaders in the Bay will be the ones that study the opportunities that the likes of Johnny Rice have put before them, such as microwaved salmon. (As opposed to micowaveable salmon.)

I suppose the Chinese are going to see this now and want to come over here in floaters and microwave all the salmon we throw overboard. Or maybe we should do it ourselves. After all you wouldn't need the boilers, retorts, cooling areas, casing machinery, a can loft with tin storage and reforming machinery, and all the equipment, tools and people to support these functions.

I hear the FDA isn't too hot on the idea though. Then they aren't hot on the simple idea of growing a plant that will cure something either. Reminds me of when I questioned the National Food Processors Association back in the 80s about canning in aluminum cans. The Scandinavians had made a seamer that would do 28 different cans, compared to our one. The NFPA rudely refused to even think about authorizing a process for the machine in the U.S. even though many products are put on our shelves in aluminum cans. God only knows what the problem was, and still is, but I suspect is has to do with upsetting the big business applecart.

As fishermen come to realize it, their production associations, in the form of Regional Seafood Development Associations, will replace the large seafood companies as the people to deal with. Then they can say, "What if we used one of these new technologies to process all the millions of pounds of salmon the processors throw overboard every year. "We could make twice as much."


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