Saturday, August 06, 2005

"Rationalization" or "Company Store Policy"

This week marked a milestone in readership of this seafood industry news blog by Alaskans. They finally outnumbered the Washington sector of the Alaska seafood industry. Remember that knowledge is power and maybe now we're starting to see a real desire by Alaskans to do their homework. Remember in school, if you didn't do your homework, you just plain failed and had to take the course over in order to move forward.

Fisheries business folks can't do any less. I've been a fisherman and small processor so I know it's hard to keep up with the latest and run these kinds of businesses. I also know that there is some slack time, maybe not a regular lunch or coffee break like Seattle folks get, but here and there. Kind of like trying to remember to take your pills. Alaskans could spread the word about sources of good news, like this blog, so conversation within the industry isn't limited by lack of knowledge on the part of fishermen, the backbone of the industry and a huge reservoir of innovation.

An example of how backwards not having information and conversation is, can be seen in the Groundfish Rationalization debate they had in Kodiak. There was a panel at a big meeting to answer questions. I think the panelists were probably the folks who have an interest in the processing plants, or politicians who back the owners of the plants, to lock in the deliveries of fish to certain towns. Anyway the meeting was total chaos. Obviously there had not been any ongoing discussion from top to bottom. And I really smell a rat when hordes of plant employees write in to parrot management's views.

A handful of people want to chisel the decision in stone as to what distribution channel to run fish through. Then the fisherman/businessman has no chance to run his operation as a business. Individual initiative and the acquisition of business acumen to vertically integrate his operation, seek a more efficient distribution channel, or otherwise excell at catching and marketing his fish, is snuffed out and rendered moot.

Do fishermen end up like"collective" workers? I worked on a collective in Israel once, and it's strictly a survival thing. You don't hear of the equivalent of the "American Dream" in the Kibbutz system in Israel. So when you don't have a chance at the brass ring then you have a collective. Call it what it is. It's not "rationalization." That's a word that was conjured up by the shore plants to just slowly get everyone used to the idea so they can cook the fishermen before they know it. (I'm using the frog in the slowly warming up pot of water analogy again.)

Did the owners of the shore plants have this handicap when they stepped off their boats and started processing? No, of course not. You can see their "rationalle" though. It's called greed, fear of the unknown, laziness, and just plain bad business for a healthy industry. If they can pull this off, they don't have to be innovative in product development and marketing. Just like in the old USSR.

This will really back-fire on those communities and plant owners if this "company store policy" is allowed to spread. Stagnation will set in through lack of modernization, fishermen might just give up by having their heart for the business ripped out, profits will decline for everyone, and wages in the glorious shore plants will be so low nobody will be able to afford to work there.

These folks want to force the other fishermen/businessmen to have to do business with them through force of law, a major departure from the free enterprise system. It probably wouldn't hold up in the Supreme Court. It's a wild card with the local courts though, if politics is hitting on all cylinders.

Look for other different scams to crop up too, that the folks that support the status quo think up, to lock out fishermen getting together. Keeping fishermen apart keeps them from having an incentive to educate themselves and have a conversation. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the way the industry has been run hasn't been taking care of things.

The "Company Store Policy" just "rationalizes" away an individuals right to better himself. If Alaska is going in a different direction, then a lot of business folks that might be thinking of locating in Alaska might want to know about it.

I'm glad that Rep. Ben Stevens took a recording of the meeting in Kodiak back with him. And I hope he sees it with his heart and not his head. Right now the forces "for" have all the arguments laid out, and have blind-sided the fishermen who are caught without many prepared arguments. So a meeting like the one in Kodiak will not be representative of the fishermen's position. If this panel was a court, a good judge would allow more time for preparation by the audience.

Many fishermen haven't thought about where they are going with their businesses, but that's what the Regional Seafood Development Associations are for. To help restructure the industry like the Murkowski administration and Legislators intended. These arguements should be shelved until the Regional Associations of fishermen have a chance to get together. It's like having the trial at four in the morning while the defendant is heading in for the eight o'clock scheduled court date.

Bonus material:

This is new to me and it looks like it might be new to the Alaska seafood industry. (This article) in Forbes bears passing on I think. Of course, if you put raw seafood in a paper based container that is to be cooked by the consumer, then you have to freeze it in a cold storage, which lowers your through-put. I don't know what the optimal freezing process for this kind of product would be. You'd have to ask the manufacturer of the packaging.

And here's one on the benefits of eating fish, written by the Mayo Clinic. Take note of the magazine and the web site mentioned, they are important for future reference.

In fact, I'll start putting various useful links at the bottom of my blogs from now on. Then there will be a permanent record of them in the Blog Archives that is easy for all of you to access.


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