Friday, August 12, 2005

Seafood as collateral

Individual fishermen and groups of fishermen are breaking into shipping their own fish more and more. And the chances are still good that there are unscrupulous folks just waiting for an unwary fisherman to send his fish his way without proper tracking, whether by paper or electronically.

When I was buying fish in Juneau, it seemed like most fishermen had lost a load and then given up. There was a period there between when the Juneau Cold Storage closed and Taku Smokeries opened, that buyers were scarce around there. A lot of these deals were over the phone with little to no paperwork to tie down the handler on the other end. Many times the fisherman would hear, "I don't know what happened, I never saw the fish."

The best thing a fishermen or group can do is send the product to a bonded warehouse/cold storage. SeaFreeze is a good big public cold storage in Seattle. Although for small lots, a smaller facility might be better. In any event you'll have the Bill of Lading saying where it's going, then get a Warehouse Receipt when it gets there.

When the fish comes out of the warehouse they will issue a Delivery Order to the owner, and his bank if the fish is being used as collateral. The D.O. spells out who is receiving the fish or where it is being shipped to next. All movements are directed by the owner of the fish and documentation issued by the movers when it moves.

Banks don't like this system, because it is too laborious to monitor all the small reductions in inventory themselves. Alaska banks just don't do it because all the pack is in Seattle and they can't watch their collateral very well. Seattle banks just take a jaunt over to the sales office of the fish once a month to look at their books. If they trust the bookkeeper that is.

Alaska banks could feel comfortable about collateralizing fish if it is kept locally for reprocessing in the winter like Norquest does. Fish gets frozen, goes into a really cold van, goes back to the plant for smoking and whatever else they do to it, then back into another van. The loan officer could just go take a look-see as often as he liked.

Good collateral control also includes going to all the public cold storages and getting to know the staff. Because of my doing that I got a call from one of them alerting me that a processor didn't want them to issue Warehouse Receipts to match some vans. We had already advanced on Bill of Lading. We needed the W.R.s to secure our collateral.

It's cases like that, and worse, that has fouled the pack financing air for the new kids on the block in Alaska. But fishermen hold all the cards. They might not know it yet. When their fish is shelf stable and put in a container or warehoused by a third party, they can get a bank advance on future sales. They could swap fish for processing costs on the rest of their fish to do the initial processing.

An electronic tracking system fits the fisherman's livestyle a whole lot better. A GPS based system like the ones from Globalstar would be the cat's pajamas. For a fish shipper, this is great, because if he sees the fish stop for longer than a coffee break he can call whoever is doing the hauling and ask them what's going on.

Some smart people are trying to sort out all the technology now. That might ease the jitters for some folks. A lot of what fishermen are trying to do these days is going to take a lot of cooperation and just plain talking things out.


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