Saturday, July 23, 2005

Cold Storages, Part III

If this is going to be a series, I might as well call it that. This blogging creates a synergy that's amazing too. Folks give you bits of information, other columnists pick up on your discussion and add a column of their own and they fill in some of the blanks. It's all really healthy. So in this vein I saw a column in the Ketchikan Daily News about the Metlakatla Cold Storage, who doesn't put their paper online for some reason.

The point of the article was about workers not getting their weekly checks. I don't know why that's so newsworthy since most everyone else gets paid bi-monthly. But there was some interesting stuff in there, and the punch line was "Everyone pulls together." I wish the Petersburg bunch would all read that article. From the Pilot report I saw, everyone is pulling in different directions like they've got hold of an Eskimo trampoline.

There were other good bits of advice for everyone in the KDN article. The Metlakatla cold storage is rearranging the layout of the plant full bore to accomodate portion cutting machines. Didn't Petersburg say they didn't want to do any value adding? Hey, these Metlakatlans are moving fast to keep pace with the modern world, they bear watching. And yes, Fish Factor, you get your wish. " Portion control is coming to a plant near you."

Actually, Norquest already has been there and done that with their portioned, smoked, and microwaved pink salmon fillets. Norquest knows what it's doing partnering with a large outside brand. And Bristol Bay got a gem when they got a Norquest founder, Bob Waldrop, to run their Regional Seafood Development Association. Although if Bob was a little more up on the U.S. experience with food producer associations, he would be a lot more confident of the outcome.

Portion control thechnology isn't new by any means. I saw it in operation at SeaFreeze in Seattle in the mid 80s. That is, computer controlled water jets cutting frozen fish fillets into exacting portions. A scanner, like the one you see in the grocery stores, except with numerous laser beams, "weighs" a portion out of a fillet and whacks it off there. You could even program the cutter to make little boat shapes, smoke them and put them in cheerios. Just kidding. The point is, imagination and homework has been in a lot shorter supply than technology in the seafood industry.

But like Bob Waldrop said, fishermen get excited when they know what the possibilities are. The Metlakatla cold storage is part of a larger operation that includes a cannery. It's all run by fishermen and plant workers and others in the community. It's a pretty good model. They are looking hard at keeping the cold storage open year around, and I'm betting they'll do it.

It helps to have the fishermen involved in the marketing and product development. Here's an example. I was helping get a whole, round fresh cod market established in Korea and some fishermen to supply the fish. Well, the Koreans want the fish for a traditional New Years dish, which means you have to fish around Christmastime. So the fishermen sent in a few loads and then, nothing. I finally found out that the fishermen knocked off for Christmas and no one knew when they would start up again. By the time they wanted to fish again the Koreans were gone.

It begs the question, how well would you cooperate if the survival of your community depended on it? When I was at the State, I remember some dire talk of relocating communities. I doubt that went to paper, but the point is, cooperation is not only fun, but healthy. Just like eating watermellon. Maybe some Metlakatla fishermen might not make much money fishing for some miscellaneous species in the winter, but the shore workers will be able to buy Christmas presents for their kids, and maybe even get a car to start driving to work like everyone else. The fishermen will be heros.

And contrary to what the State Department of Community and Economic Development says, there is a lot of guidance on what an Association can do for fishermen and the communities they live in. They must not have found the white paper I left there 15 years ago. I pretty much knew my paper would get "lost" when I came out with such a politically controversial concept back then. I just had to find other buttons to push over the years, little nudges in the end. But it took salmon ex-vessel prices dropping, like Laine Welch said, to get a Governor going. And Murkowski can take a lot of credit for being a leader about it.

I want to show how complicated such an endeavour as starting a cold storage (or an association) is. Just take Business Rules vs Process Rules. This white paper will really put you to sleep, but the proponents that understand the modern language of business are the ones that will succeed. Then these rules need to mesh with the Rules of other Partner Enterprises. For example, any cold storages will want to have Process Rules that mesh with Process Rules of the Regional Association and maybe even other cold storages, and certainly Safeway and the like. And they will need to understand the new technology available such as RFID.

Some folks at the Petersburg City Council meeting where the lease was approved were fishing for some Business Rules to look at. The Alaska experience has shown that it is easier to fail than to succeed in the cold storage business. Also remember the big Anchorage Cold Storage that the State lost 25 million dollars on. A new cold storage now will have to be tied to a larger project, such as the regional associations, for management, raw product, product forms, logistics and marketing.

There seems to be some magic in the word "cold storage" that gets people excited. Most of this comes from the euphoria of yesterday, when the Japanese had been kicked off the salmon and black cod grounds, the halibut started to rebound, the European market opened up, and salmon eggs brought in new revenue. Low fish prices from farmed salmon competition, the loss of the European frozen market, and Japanese economic conditions have changed the whole mix. And storing bait won't pay the bills.


Post a Comment

<< Home