Thursday, July 21, 2005

Speaking of cold storages.

I just saw the Juneau Empire article on Kake's Chum Festival. Janet Sheldon was the coordinator of the festival this year and in my opinion, Kake couldn't have a better front person. She was the house mother of the bunkhouse when my dad and I were out there in '79 to get the cannery running for Petersburg Fisheries. I was assigned to get a buying station going for troll fish and halibut. Janet was a mother lode of levity and good sense.

Her husband is originally from Petersburg and taught me enough to get me into the trolling business. I got to repay him one year when he hung up his cannon balls at the entrance to Tebenkoff Bay and was within an inch of free-board from going down. I happened along and had the tool to cut his wires. He impressed on me how appreciative he was one Christmas Eve at the Trading Union open house, after a couple of Tom and Jerrys, while I was Julebakking down mainstreet. You just gotta experience Petersburg at Christmas sometime.

Excuse me, you probably are wondering what in the world is Julebakking. It's a Norwegian custom of going door to door and sharing in people's food delecacies and drinks. The Petersburg version has downtown businesses laying out a spread to kill for, for all comers. Don't let the word out too much though. Well, sticking to my reason for blogging: COLD STORAGES.

Kake has their big function in the summer, which also makes sense, seeing as how a celebration of the abundance of nature is such a cool thing to participate in. But I was saddened to see that they had closed their cold storage. It had been under construction when I was there.

Why did this cold storage close anyway? It is a muli-million dollar facility. Surely it could take on a life of it's own, build it and they will come, or something. Build it and then find a market for the fish? Here, the Kake cold storage closes down, the bigger historic cold storage in Pelican closes down, the Angoon cold storage never gets going, the Klawok cold storage sputters and then burns to the ground, and how could I forget Capitol Seafoods in Juneau, and now Petersburg and Wrangell are building small public cold storages.

(Public means nobody has made a proper study of the consequences.) That's kind of a cheap shot, but once I voted against a cold storage project out in the bush while at the State and they went ahead on 'er anyway. The next thing I know they're asking me to go out and get it going 'cuz nobody can make a go of it.

When I was writing the Small Processors Association white paper while at the State, I did a demonstration project with half a dozen fisheries related folks around the state. We started to have phone meetings and one of the first things I mentioned was that the Kake Cold Storage had closed. It didn't take much time at all before one Task Force member yielded the idea that got it going again. That was in 1991. In my mind that really put a feather in the cap of the association concept. Nobody else had stepped to the plate. This is the power of working together.

I could have put a question mark after Petersburg and Wrangell's initiatives, but that's not fair. I don't know their minds. Maybe someone has a game plan. I didn't have a game plan when I started blogging and I'm being syndicated all over the place now. I'm just throwing out a note of caution is all. Seafreeze is the biggest seafood cold storage that handles Alaska seafood and they couldn't see a way to build a cold storage in Dutch Harbor.

Folks took at least two cracks at justifying a public cold storage in Kodiak in the 80's and couldn't see black ink. The Ketchikan cold storage initiative didn't go as far as you could throw the proposal either. So, how many is that? I could list more too but it's getting kinda embarassing. This is the 21st century after all.

The PFI manager in Petersburg asked the sixty four dollar question, "what's your game plan and who is on your payroll," of the proponents of the 1/2 million lb storage facility. You know, that's not a lot of holding capacity either. It might be, if it was value-added product, but not whole frozen product. I know for a fact that there is an old school mind set floating around too. But to build a plant to produce a product when you don't know what that is going to be is.........., well, you fill in the blank.

I say, take a step back and look around. One of the biggest initiatives that has hit Alaska since TAPs is the Regional Seafood Development Associations. They have the blessing of the State now, so other projects funded with State funds should jive with them. They will be organizing full bore this fall after the fishing season. That's when any next step on any cold storage in Southeastern Alaska should take place .

After all, it's conceivable that all the fishermen in Petersburg might join the Southeastern RSDA and then the executive committee would be sitting in the driver's seat on behalf of all of them. They might even hire a Lee Iacocca type that everyone could listen to and just start opening up all these cold storages in one master plan that has some teeth to it. After all, that's the potential of a regional association and why state government is behind them.


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