Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What do YOU consider "rational"?

They call this new type of fisheries management "rationalization." Why they call it that, or who came up with the idea, I'm not sure anyone knows. It is, however, taking on the patina of very low viscosity oil. It might go down in the history books as a byword for something that can never be defined because the political forces are pulling it all over the board so fast that Webster can't pin it down. I say, if nobody claims it in 90 days, take it to the dump.

I think a lot of fishermen percieve their voice in seafood industry to be small because of how small their operation is in the "big fishing pond."

Since I have to hit the road for a few days, I'll leave this independent fishermen's web site with you as homework. And since there is a Victor Smith letter on the site, that's quite enough to read for the duration. Vic always lays out a ton of details of behind-the-scenes activity that ends up describing how we got to where we are, in a lot of ways, in the fishing business. Notice I separate this from the seafood business. That's because the fishing business is the rough and ready, business as usual, get what you can as fast as you can stuff that we've seen since the first canneries were built in the 1800s.

It is characterized by fishermen competing with each other with net against net, longline against longline and even with fist and pike-pole. The other main characteristic of the fishing industry is the animosity between fishermen and cannery owners. It's called the "fishing game" by big processors. It is a sport to all the participants. More people all the time are wanting to tame it and call it the "seafood business." Among the chief reasons are wives telling husbands they better make some money at the business or sell the boat.

As fishermen get more savvy at playing the game, the processors go to greater lengths to assert their dominance over the industry. Heck, just look at what the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute calls the processing sector - the industry. Think about how many times you've heard "the industry" used to refer to the processing sector. A lot of people are conditioned to exclude all the fisher/businessmen, city managers, marine hardware store owners, etc. from the definition of the seafood industry.

We need to get Webster up to Alaska to get the semantics straight so we can move forward in an orderly manner. Fishermen also need to speak up. Now is the time.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Cell phones on salmon?

This article on tracking salmon on their high seas journeys is just what the doctor ordered. Actually, the results from Ocean Census will be. Here's what the article on the 10 year long Ocean Census by 73 different countries says about salmon. I like to keep my eye out for the interesting new fish topics and two pieces showed up on the Ocean Census and one on a new trout. I had to go to a Christmas Eve function to get the trout story (at the end of this post) from the "party of the first part."

A sea-run brown trout, caught by Sonja Nisson of the Rogue River Flyfishers in 2005 in Tierra Del Fuego.

The senior scientist for the Census of Marine Life, Ron O'Dor, said, "We're sending animals out with the equivalent of cell phones and they're telling us where they are." You can go to for the straight scoop.

"Apart from adding to our knowledge of the oceans, the census will allow better management of commercial fishing. US scientists electronically tagged 2700 salmon to track their migrations across the Pacific Ocean from 16 river systems."

I blogged about this last summer when various runs of reds and chinook up and down the coast failed to show up. Then I blogged about a fish tracking device the English had been working on for 20 years. So, take heart, we should know one of these years if someone is jacking our fish or they are just running into a wall of predators or other literal or figurative hot water. I'll keep you posted.

The Census has been going on for five years now. They have found a lot of new species, and a lot of bad news about the health of many stocks of fish. To put this in perspective, the new specie include a tiny sponge that eats like a pac-man. Probably won't take a bait. Most of the rest are little jelly fish and such. But they've tracked tuna all the way across the Pacific and back again.

The Story of the Sea-Run Brown:

I ran into a fisherwoman Christmas Eve who had a fish story from Tierra Del Fuego. She got in on a trip, by a real fluke, that had been in the planning for five years. The rest of the expedition was making a video of a couple of master fly fishermen and women in action in waters that have produced five world record trout. They were on a 28 day expedition to Patagonia and surrounding areas. Sonja has been fly fishing since her grandad started taking her out when she was 12 and now is a pharmaceutical executive and still loves a fly fishing trip. So she went off on her own one day with a Spanish-only speaking guide to take her out for sea-run brown trout.

She hooked onto a 22 pounder using a wolly bugger, got the picture and let it go. Took 23 minutes to land. Those sea-run browns are real fighters, just like steelhead, apparently. I know about steelhead because one broke my pole in three places once. And we thought Alaska had big trout. Actually I saw a picture recently of a real lunker of a steelhead caught just downstream from Niagra Falls. That's the biggest trout I've seen. Even though I've seen a lot of seine caught steelhead in the thirty pound range in Alaska.

The above picture is one she caught the same day that was a couple pounds smaller. Just before she fell over the waterfall. The next fish she hooked after the 22 pounder, she was walking downstream with it and didn't see the waterfall. Over she went and hit her head on a rock (she didn't let go of her rod). The guide fished her out and offered her a bottle of brandy to warm up. The air is cold enough down there without falling in. After signaling back and forth for awhile, trying to tell the guide that she couldn't drink alcohol, the guide drank the brandy and gave her his dry clothes! They came through not much the worse for wear. Sonja had to have eye surgery though and uses an eye patch now, but it hasn't dampened her enthusiasm.

Maybe I can get these folks up to Alaska sometime to make a video, and learn a few of their tricks.

Some whimpy grayling I caught along the Tok Cut-Off in 1970 on my way back from Bristol Bay.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Ok, it's hit the fan now.

When I was at the Pacific Marine Expo. in Seattle this fall, a fisherman came up to me and said I should get Victor Smith's editorial and publish it here. These are long time Petersburg fishermen that I grew up with. Bill was unusually stoked about Vic's article and the skuldugery it exposed. That got me moseying over to the Fishermen's News booth to get a line on this editorial that they had printed earlier. I ended up calling the editor and in due course got a copy of the "News" that contained Vic's article.

I was meaning to call Vic this week in Friday Harbor to ask if I could publish it here in sections. Then I see this editorial in the Kodiak Daily Mirror about the same skuldugery; maybe a little more concise. I didn't want to get into this right before Christmas, which is why I didn't call Vic I guess. But like they say, "For evil to prevail, good men just have to do nothing."

Since I don't know Bobby Thorstensen or Ben Stevens, I will say that I've known Victor Smith probably as long as anyone in the fishing business. We go back to when we were going out to Blind Slough swimming in the summers, 18 miles out of Petersburg. One time we were waiting for the Smiths to come over so we could drive in a convoy. They were driving the Fish and Game "woody" and it had some rust. Vic's dad was the ADF&G game biologist. About all I remember is we had to go pick them up because their battery fell out on the ground on the way over to our place.

In the about 50 years I've known Victor Smith, I've never known him to stretch the truth, in fact he developed a pattern of seeking the truth going way back. It's hard for the average person to find out the whole truth, which is one reason I bring up things I see in this blog, for others that have more time and money to pursue. The onus on this one seems to rest on the Alaska Public Offices Commission. And maybe those fishermen who put Bobby Thorstensen in such a position of leadership over them.

I know the Thorstensen family because I grew up in Petersburg where Bob Thorstensen started Icicle Seafoods. My father gave Bobby's father his first job in Alaska. About all I'll say is that independent fishermen should wonder how much of Icicle Seafood's interests are being represented by having the founder's son run their professional association. His father lead his seafood processing professional associations and used to travel to Juneau quite a lot to further his processing business.

I read the mission statement that the United Fishermen of Alaska have, the organization that Bobby Thorstensen is head of. I saw that they proclaim to cooperate with the processors. Does that mean that the fishermen condesend to the processors, or the other way around - not. The only major breakthrough on price negotiations there ever was, was when the Kodiak seiners hired a negotiator for the Dallas Cowboys to come up and force the processors to cough up an equitable share of the market price of canned salmon. The price jumped from 7 cents a pound to 12 cents that summer. Since I had supplied the organizers with ammunition for these "negotiations" seiners thanked me for saving their season.

There was no cooperation involved. Someone came in and showed fishermen how to do business with the processors the right way. Now it seems it's back to business as usual. Question, does Bobby Thorstensen make more from being the heir to the Icicle Seafoods fortune or by catching a few humpies in Southeast?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Tale of Two Cans

This story involves the famous movie maker, Francis Ford Coppola. Seems he has a vinyard in the Napa Valley in California and decided to sell champagne. The wine growers in California had already got together and beat out the French who were saying that good wine only comes from France. So it's no surprise that Coppola took on the last sales pitch the French had, that champagne had to come from the Champagne region of France. (Regional pink salmon branders beware.)

To make a long story short, he put up 5,000 cases of champagne IN CANS. They sold out so fast he just finished putting up 50,000 cases. Vintage? It gets consumed so fast that asking about the vintage comes after the can is empty, so the story goes.

But he did what I have blogged about before, he started with the demographic, Generation Y, etc. and designed a product form for a product he already had. He had wines, so he blended them and made it bubbly. Then he thought that these young people should be taking it to all the places where brewskis have reigned; football games, picnics, etc. Hence the can. And a straw. A pink can and a colored straw. Definitely a girlie drink. And for $4.99 a split.

We've been saying "take the salmon out of the can" for a long time. There is just too much of Alaska's salmon going into a tall steel can to make for good returns for fishermen. With some large processors backing off from taking the salmon out of the can, SOMEONE has to be the Francis Ford Coppola of the fishing industry. It has to be done in a big way, so it'll probably be one of the new regional associations.

Story number two is about the first ever flash freezing:

Clarence Birdseye sold rats to a Columbia University scientist to help himself get through Amherst College. He discovered that fish and game that was frozen quickly tasted better than if it was frozen slowly. In 1923 he started freezing rabbit and fish fillets with dry ice. He soon started the General Seafoods Company to market his foods better.

A few years later he sold the company to General Foods, which changed the name of his brand to "Birds Eye." Clarence thought that was fine, since his family had taken on the name Birds Eye after an ancestor saved an English queen by shooting an attacking hawk in the eye.

I'll bet you didn't know that the high quality of Alaska's frozen seafood (frozen at minus 20 degrees F. or lower) is because a guy was putting himself through college selling frozen rats. I sure didn't. Little matter how the breakthrough came about, Clarence Birdseye got rich doing something about a better idea. Sounds like there was a family heritage of taking the bull by the horns too.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Spare a fish?

This article on fish donations is as close to some good news as I'll probably find for this week before Christmas. It's very admirable that a Alaska factory trawl company would give away 290,000 pounds of fish, and already made up into fish sticks. Now that's a pretty decent thing to do in my book.

Clyde Curry's first seiner in Sitka Sound.

One time, Petersburg Fisheries was grinding up whole chum salmon so I asked Patrick Wilson, the manager, if they could make some available for the public. In half an hour, Pat was tooling out of the plant on a forklift with a tote of chums which he dropped off on the side of main street.

Another time, Rick Magill was running south from the Bering Sea and dropped off a couple of totes of king crab in Petersburg. PFI cooked them up and left them on the dock for the public. That was right before Christmas if I recall right.

Most folks of good will give back to their communities without any thought of "what's in it for me." That includes the vast majority of politicians I believe. They are a little akin to king crab crewmen. By the time all the hours they put in are tallied, they are making about minimum wages. We are charged to pray for our government. If it's too hard most of the time, at least we can get a quick one off while the Christmas spirit is alive.

We also need to pause occasionally and consider how good some of us have it compared to others. It's real common in Alaska, after having a good year, for fishermen to just pack up and head for warmer climes. And of course leave the business of watching out for their fisheries to others. Some fishermen in Alaska are working on a fix for all in the form of RSDAs, but how well is that going to work when most of their buddies are in Maui or Seattle or Cancun.

That's been the bane of the brotherhood of fishermen since the dawn of time I think. Letting business slide until something ugly rears it's head, then it's "quick, do something." Fishermen in Alaska are doing a little better than two years ago, especially with winter king salmon at $8.20 a pound ex-vessel the other day. (Those fish got flown fresh to Miami.)

Katrina victims may still be on our minds, but lets not forget those fishermen that stayed in Cordova or Sand Point or Wrangell that are slaving away for the rest of the snowbirds or just slaving away to stay warm.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

MSA on catch limits and cooperatives

In an effort to help us on the West Coast keep a close eye on the evolution of the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization, I occasionally include material from the East Coast. This from a correspondent in Washington D.C.

"Changes favored by Mainers include allowing foreign processing of seafood such as lobster and herring. Also, the New England Fishery Management Council could allow innovative programs such as fishing cooperatives without holding a referendum."

"Revisions approved Thursday involved quotas, which give each fisherman a share of the total catch based on his previous average catch. Quotas are controversial in New England because of concern that large fishing companies would buy out individual fishermen."

"To hinder such a move, the Stevens legislation would have required two-thirds of the fishermen targeted for a quota system to support it. On Thursday, however, he removed the requirement for a referendum to permit a similar strategy called cooperatives."

"Cooperatives are popular with environmentalists and are attracting interest from fishermen eager to get away from a limit on days at sea."

The New England Fishery Management Council has been struggling for years to keep fishermen from over-harvesting the stocks on the East Coast. There just doesn't seem to be the will to cut off fishing when the allowable biological catch has been reached. So the stocks have continued to go down.

A lot of what is going on in the reauthorization process looks like the Act's inability to rein in over-harvesting. The Aleutians East Borough wanted referendums of fishermen so there wouldn't be another "king crab debacle." And the Mainers want cooperatives so they can keep on fishing on their over-fished stocks and not go out of business. That, in real simple terms.

The Boroughs in Alaska probably have the most at stake, and the resources to keep up on the issues regarding the reauthorization of the MSA. So, keep up the good work, you Borough folks that have your spy-glasses out. It's your hen houses.

Friday, December 16, 2005

MSA reauthorization news; It passed, the committee anyway

With the Senate committee giving the Act and it's revisions it's stamp of approval yesterday, the fun begins. I don't think wishy-washy language is going to get very far this time around. There are just too many people on their lap-tops watching the reauthorization process anymore.

Even in the way the Act is written this time, the Council process itself will be a lot more transparent. Notably transparent will be the economic interests of the individual council members as pertains to business at hand.

But of concern to fishermen and communities is some language that enables something called regional fisheries associations. What in tar are these? That couldn't have possibly been Alaska's Sen. Stevens idea. Alaska is starting up Regional Seafood Development Associations that are made up of fishermen. These fishermen have limited entry permits and quota shares. The model is taken after all the associations of primary producers in the U.S. See if you can make sense out of this excerpt:

"Establishes national guidelines for Limited Access Privilege Programs (LAPPs) for the harvesting of fish. The LAPPs include Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs), and are expanded to allow for allocation of harvesting privileges to fishing communities or regional fishery associations.
Only fisheries that have been operating under a limited access program for at least a year would be eligible for consideration for a LAPP. All LAPPs would be developed by the Councils and be subject to review by the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary).
Does not provide for the establishment of a separate Processor Quota, but processors would be eligible to hold LAPPs to harvest fish, pursuant to current law, and any decision to allocate privileges to processors would be made in the Council's normal allocation decision making process.
Provides for a five-year administrative review of each program's compliance with the goals of the program and the MSA. "

If there is a model of a Regional Fisheries Association somewhere that is different than what Alaska is doing and is making everyone in the industry in that region just plain stinking rich, then I'd sure like to see it. And the RSDAs in Alaska don't need a special priviledge, a separate quota of the public resource. Fishermen need to be able to jump the RSDA ship they are on, if the RSDA doesn't perform, and start a new one that will. That's the beauty of free enterprise.

So, again, how does a RFA differ from a RSDA? Is the RFA wording a smokescreen? It is a suggestion for other parts of the U.S. to look at the model in Alaska, the RSDAs. If that's the case, the other parts of the country will see some good things happening soon enough. The RSDA for Southeast Alaska, Southeast Alaska Rainforest Wild, held their 1st annual meeting yesterday and are off to the races.They are starting to do things that government, industry, community elders or anyone, has only dreamed about. They are off to duplicate the success of the California Wine Growers Association or Florida Citrus Mutual.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Industrial fishing ruins 20% of Philipine fishing communities

I admit that when I heard that "rationalization" in the Gulf of Alaska was going to prevent any fisherman from starting to process his own fish, I was a little shocked. How could such an un-American, anti-free enterprise concept ever take hold? It's such a foreign concept to people of good will. Where do these ideas come from anyway?

This picture of Craig, Alaska shows a typical coastal fishing community in Alaska. The industrial base is mostly fishing related. The rest is government and the service sector. (A reminder that I took all the pictures that appear on this blog.)

Philipine fishermen number about 1 and 1/2 million souls. Large foreign industrual fishing and marketing operations that illegally fish in these fishermen's waters number a whole lot fewer than that. Yet the Philipine government has reduced the import tax on these illegally caught fish so they effectively replace the locally caught fish on the Philipine market. And in consequence, 20% of the small scattered fishing communities cannot support themselves anymore. Government policy did that to their own people in deference to some large scale business interests. Wow! Could that happen in the U.S.? Ask the Aleutians East Borough if you think not.

Even the agencies that are supposed to be skilled in maximizing the beneficial impacts on the multiplier effect in communities could never get it right. Some notable ones of these at the state level in Alaska had to have the plug pulled on them. Has the desire for profit and the means to get there changed much over the years? No. What has changed though is communications technology. That means that fishermen and community leaders don't have to live like mushrooms anymore; live in the dark and be fed b... ....

That means they can vote for politicians with conscience. Although those might be mutually exclusive variables. (The flip side is that there really are good politicians and agency people, but they just aren't given many good choices to pick from.) If fishermen want to be part of the solution, they can support the better mousetrap, the Regional Seafood Development Associations. There is no better solution on the horizon, unless doing nothing is an option for them. Then it's back to the stone ages, and Philipine style fishing, with not enough income to support a community.

But the RSDAs, like the double referendum in federal fisheries management, can start to develop solutions from a free enterprise platform. A platform that consists of the 99% and not the 1% that is industrial scale. Sure, you can give it all to the 1% and it might look like a success and a big glorious deal, but just don't go to a little coastal village and see what kind of boots 8 year old Mary Jane has to walk to school in the winter with. But it's the responsibility of fishermen and city councils all over to get behind these democratic solutions and not let the tail wag the dog.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Herring gillnetting

This article about herring gillnetting in San Francisco Bay brought back memories of running around in the Bay with my brother Steve and Johnny Johansen. I only did that once and for just a short time. I think I only helped them shake nets for a couple of hours. I calculated I got paid about 1000 dollars an hour. They made out like bandits for the season. But lately it's been really scratchy, and the prices have been way down too.

This picture I took, of my brother Steve and his herring gillnet crewman, Craig Norheim, documents the entire catch of the first year of roe herring gillneting in Alaska: a couple of buckets of steamer clams.

It may be that the prices of herring roe never come back to their former glory. I reported to the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank, when I worked there in the 80's, that young Japanese were going more for flavored Atlantic herring roe, and too, were not even picking up the habit. Kind of like young people of Norwegian decent in this country not eating so much pickled herring.

But the gillnetters in San Francisco Bay intrigue me. They somehow prevailed over the fisheries biologists in regards to what mesh size to use. Interesting story. My father always thought that gillnetting for herring was the better way to catch herring because you could target the larger herring. The little ones could grow up and the larger ones you caught were more valuable on the market anyway.

Between my two brothers, my father and myself, we launched the first gillnet herring operation in Alaska. The company across the harbor saw our activity and the next year herring gillnetters from all over Southeast Alaska joined us down at Kahshakes Cove. The Petersburg guys in their newly minted aluminum sleds and the Ketchikan bunch in their treated plywood barges we called the "Cuprinol Coffins," after the green preservative paint, Cuprinol.

What stories I could tell from 12 years of ram-rodding in the hering fisheries. Maybe I can eventually get some of them down for the record, for that book that someone is going to write on the fishing industry in Alaska, covering the last fourty years of the 1900s anyway.

With as much herring as there is in Alaska, it's pretty hard to come by some good food herring to mess around with. Me and Iver Amundsen went together and bought a frozen block of good herring from Seahawk Seafoods in Valdez one time when we worked for CFAB. The herring was slated to be halibut bait, but Ray Cessarini had told me it was frozen just a couple of hours after it was caught. That set us up in pickled herring real well for that Christmas in Anchorage.

I just happened to come on the scene as a production foreman when the stars were aligned for the start of the roe herring fisheries in Alaska. I was helping run the crew in Yakutat when we froze the first load of roe herring that ever got frozen in Alaska. After that it all got squeezed out and packed in buckets, until the fad changed to freezing in blocks again, with the passage of the "Total Utilization Law."

So, here's to a better season for the San Francisco Bay herring fishermen. May the big herring stick in their nets and the small ones get through, the price bump up a little, the price of fuel go down a little, the weather stay good, and the exchange rate stay favorable.

The Southeast AK Regional Seafood Development Association news

The U.S. approach to the Montreal climate meetings of the United Nations remind me of the solve-the-problem approach that the Regional Seafood Development Associations are taking. The U.S. isn't buying into this endless bickering and blame gamemanship in global warming. The U.S. government is saying they are going to solve the problem of PUTTING these substances in the atmosphere once and for all, for everyone. And they spend about 3 billion dollars a year working on it. Many technological breakthroughs have already been made.

This is a picture of a herring fillet machine I set up and ran in an Alaskan plant. Our 49% recovery on butterfly fillets was considered optimal for fall herring.

You have to go to the source of the problem and solve that, not try to treat the symptoms. The U.S. is working hard on ways to power cars without using all the petroleum we use now. Forget the hybrid cars, there's already a hydrogen fuel cell car or two driving around California as we speak. That's going to solve the green-house gas problem, not shutting down factories, making driving on Sunday unlawful or some other hardship.

In like manner, the RSDAs are a structural breakthrough, like democracy was, in ordering mens affairs. I don't think you could call the Council process of management of federal fisheries very orderly, irregardless of how well one region may be doing compared to other regions. I won't make a case here, but anyone that knows the process knows how self-serving the members of the Councils are. They are just men and certainly haven't sworn an oath of poverty.

The Regional Seafood Development Associations can theoretically work out problems among all the fishermen in a region. They inherently have the best interests of the region in mind. They have annual meetings locally, like this one in Wrangell, that tend to eliminate the Washington boats from decision making, because of the cost of travel to the meetings. These out-of-state interests have never been that concerned about economic development in Alaska. Those handfull of men that control the profits of the big processing plants in Alaska are in this category too.

Who better to rack their brains for the right solutions for Alaska than the 99 % of the people that are directly affected by regulations and resource health; the fishermen. The idea of RSDAs will take hold and spread, just like democracy has, because it's a better idea. It's the approach to eliminating the gas that emenates from all the varied and disparate fisheries political meetings that go on continually in Alaska and elsewhere in the U.S. Without ever solving anything.

The smart fishermen, and the ones that could afford to, have always gone into marketing their own fish. I don't know of any processing operation in Alaska, that survived any amount of time, in which the founder didn't start out as a fisherman. It's just not right that the few processing company owners left want to lock out fishermen, with the help of the new Magnuson-Stevens Act. The RSDAs might or they might not want to process their own fish in order to market them, but it is a free enterprise solution and maybe the only one on the horizon. A national organization of fishermen would do well to to work to get these in other coastal states. (Other subjects for study are the National Fisheries Institute, and large processing company associations in the North Pacific for their effect on state and national fisheries policy.)

The existing processors SHOULD be willing to work with the RSDAs and just do the processing, but that's not the happy state of affairs of men at the moment in the fishing industry. But, with strong RSDAs, the producers of seafood will finally be able to trade in their own goods. That is, if assaults like "rationalization," on their prospects and the prospects for coastal Alaska communities, don't pick them off first. This has the potential to lock the industry into the present system of bickering and blamemanship that never solves the REAL problem.

Southeast Alaska Rainforest WILD Newsletter
News From Your Regional Seafood Development Association December 10, 2005
in this issue

-- RSDA/ ASMI meeting notes


The tide is definitely flooding in for the Alaskan salmon industry. Since, last month ASMI has formed an RSDA committee,the Bristol Bay RSDA began an outreach campaign to their fleet at Pacific Marine Expo, and just last week in Anchorage the RSDA's met with ASMI in Anchorage to discuss their future interaction models.
This is a pivotal time in our industry and as fisherfolk we now have an opportunity to help choose a destination, chart the course, and man the helm of your RSDA. Please, take just a moment of your time to review some of what has been in the works for your Southeast Alaska RSDA.

The meeting will start at 1PM Alaska time. Ellyn Lundgren, Regional Seafood Development Association coordinator will be in Wrangell for the Annual membership meeting.

Annual Fiscal Report
Project/ Process report
RSDA status report
Open forum discussion
Nomination/Election Board Members (4 open seats)
Comments by members

RSDA/ ASMI meeting notes
ASMI sponsored a meeting of RSDA's and potential RSDA's at the Marriot hotel in Anchorage this past Thursday and Friday. The potential for cooperative marketing, ASMI resources, and industry cooperation in quality issues were discussed. ASMI has redone its' website to make it more user friendly and complete. It has purchased very limited rights to a map of the 12 designated fishing regions of Alaska that is designed as a poster. It is planned to add this to their website as an interactive tool. Ellyn Lundgren will be available at our membership meeting to address ASMI resources and to answer other questions. Ellyn works within the ASMI structure with funds supplied by AFMB under a two year grant that ends in June of 2006.

Contact Information
phone: 907-874-3400

Thursday, December 08, 2005

New seafood restaurant a la Newport, OR

This is a dynamite article if you have seafood restaurants on the brain. Either to eat in one or put one together. The fish is served about a frisbees throw away from where the boats that caught it tie up on the north side of Yaquina Bay.

This seafood market is in the Pike Place market in Seattle.

There is a great location like this in Petersburg, AK. It's even on pilings, and the road in front of it is on pilings too. The view out the spacious windows command a view of nothing but a sea of boats and processing plants and the mountains that rise straight up from the ship channel a mile away. The setting sun pours it's yellow rays straight in through those big windows for an ambiance that can't be beat. And the tourists stream by yards away on their way to town from the ferry terminal. And they serve PIZZA!

And as long as we're talking about seafood marketing, I'll throw in a tid-bit I saw today on vastly increasing the shelf life of fresh seafood. It's from a company that develops high-tech solutions for bacterial growth, for one thing. They claim to be able to double the shelf life of some seafoods.

"The Company intends to market the pHarlo technology for use in pathogen reduction and shelf life extension in seafood processing, subject to the receipt of any necessary regulatory approvals. Tasker Pacific Blue(TM) Seafood Wash has been tested at the North Carolina State Center for Marine Science & Technology, Virginia Tech University and Mississippi State University. It has been tested on such varieties of seafood as shrimp, mahi mahi, salmon, flounder, scallops and catfish. The results of the pHarlo technology reflect the possibility of doubling the shelf life on catfish filets and a significant increase on the shelf life of scallops. Commercial scale tests began in December 2005."

I blogged before about a mixture of gasses that extended the shelf life of a test batch of humpies in wet-locks for weeks. I wonder what they put in those little bags of cut up apples that keeps them looking fresh as a daisy a month after you buy them.

D-day on the salmon stream?

There seem to be several invasions of major Alaska salmon spawning systems in the works. At the Pacific Marine Expo. confab on forming a B.B. Regional Seafood Development Organization, one local spoke almost exclusively on a proposed open-pit mine right next to one of the big sockeye lakes that run into Bristol Bay.

The oil pipeline in the Copper River's upper watershed is risk enough for some people.

Then this morning I ran into this article about development projects in the Copper River system. One of them would be a Korean coal mine that would require several mountain tops to be removed. There are some local people working real hard to make sure things don't get out of hand in what they consider one of the last great reserves of primitive earth left, with such an abundance of fish and wildlife.

In fact, an Eyak native activist flew to Korea to tell the board of directors that their pride and joy mine project could become the biggest ecological embarassment they could imagine. I'm not taking any sides here, because I've worked a cubicle away from a State mine development specialist. Some mines work out real well, like the Greens Creek mine on Admiralty Island. Basicaly one small entry hole in the ground and a dock there and one in Juneau. And a lot of pay checks getting cashed at Wells Fargo.

But I've driven by Hells Gate on the Frazer River in British Columbia enough times to remember what development can do to a salmon run. They think the sockeye run up the Frazer got to over 100 million fish in the late 1800s. Even if they did knock it down to an annual 50 million fish run, if they hadn't wiped out the run with one dynamite blast, we would be seeing a much different B.C. today.

You're not even talking about dams like the dozens on the Columbia River. There they just decided, to heck with the salmon. In B.C. the ecosystem was changed so radically by the disappearance of all those fish that they never were able to rebuild the run. Some mines, clearcutting, bear viewing, roads, etc., have very little impact on the environment and other people's livelihoods, and others, a lot.

Electricians and astronauts know the risks in their jobs but they do them anyway. An electrical shock could be slight or it could be the "big one." And an astronaut might miss the moon by just an inch too much, and well, you can imagine the rest. The point is that nobody knows what's going to happen over time with a lot of little risks, or one giant risk.

And if the public and the Forest Service folks in Alaska recommended not messing with the Copper River Flats, why do high government officials go over their heads? Are they going to quit their government jobs for the lure of riches in the coal fields?

You might think that Cordova is the same gritty little town it's always been, even with the income stream of the Copper River salmon runs. But what about all those cars and boat engines that they send money to Detroit for? And all the colleges and retailers around the country they do business with.?

And if you know how to use a financial calculator, you can do a future worth calculation on the income stream from all the salmon runs in Alaska that are in jeapordy, for just the next 100 years. Then the future sum with the multiplier effect factored in. Then compare that to the income Alaska got from mine labor during the short life of the mine, if the miners are from Alaska even. The mine owners certainly won't be.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The fish waste web site, new product development

Since we don't have such a critter in this country, I'll have to post a hyperlink to a European fish waste site. It's a business-to-business site. Which means if you have a bunch of fish waste you don't know what to do with, you look on the site and get a whole list of companies that deal with the type of problem you have.

This kind of treatment will become a thing of the past as soon as fishermen get involved in marketing.

I think, at the moment, we're supposed to be waiting for someone up in Fairbanks to come up with some solutions for using all the fish waste in Alaska. They could keep a web site like this one, at the minimum, so folks would have something to go on. When the magic bullet finally is off the drawing boards, then the site would be rendered moot. But in the meantime, it would be nice if we at least kept up with the Joneses.

You might say that the processors know all about waste by-products already. Well, maybe and maybe not. And what about those small processor start-ups? Oh, I forgot, the goal is to not let anyone else into the processing game, that is, if you buy into the Gulf of Alaska Groundfish Rationalization Plan. And if that's the case, then chalk up vertical integration by fishermen as un-American and just a bad idea. You'd be a lot better off with a moritorium on fisheries politicians that have never lived in a coastal fishing community or been on a boat with a gaff hook in hand or helped pile the seine.

It always comes back to what type of structure works best for all the problems confronting fishermen and communities. And that's an association. Well, we have the green light by the government to make them happen now, like they have all over the world. Sometimes I wonder why the huge attack on fishermen and small processors, now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for them. Look at what associations do, they find new markets and develop new products. Here's an example:

"THE Norwegian prawn industry is at risk of disappearing, but product development and establishment of new markets are two strategies that can save the industry, a report from Norwegian Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture Research, Fiskeriforskning concludes."

The large processors shouldn't be fighting the association concept, there still needs to be processing. And they own the facilities that can make new products happen the easiest. Some fishermen are already finding procesors who will basically buy their fish, process it the way the fishermen want, and sell it back to them. If the processor didn't thermally abuse the fish, or contaminate it, or freeze it too slowly, etc, the fisherman has a great product he can go out into the marketplace with.

Establishing new markets is a very pointed task. It's not scattering brochures from an airplane. It takes a bunch of research by a talented researcher. Then it takes salesmanship by a talented salesman. The researchers are the ones that competed in science fairs as kids. The salesmen, and women, are the ones that set up lemonade stands as kids. It won't work without the born talent.
Product development comes out of the market research. A good test kitchen makes the new products and a bunch of computer geeks fills in the rest. THEN you have something to take to a processor. Just like you take a finished manuscript to a publisher. Of course it depends on how complicated the product, but the point is that the fishermen will have to know the processing game. Or at least someone in their midst will have to.

The associations don't have to feel like they are at the mercy of the large processors, they can start bringing in floaters to do their processing. Eventually the shore plant owners will give up their desire to control the marketing in favor of their own survival. Or they will sell out like Columbia Wards did because it's just "no fun" anymore without the day to day fighting.

Take a look at how fast headed, gutted and frozen pink prices have risen in the last couple of years. Now it's up to over 60 cents a pound. Those are probably going mostly to Chinese buyers for further processing, per my favorite brokers. A well funded group of pink salmon fishermen in Kodiak proved that fishermen can negotiate with the big processors on marketing issues. It's just a matter of not blinking. And if you can work that 62 cents/lb wholesale down to an ex-vessel price by figuring for recovery of fish and eggs, deductions for ice and slime, shipping materials, labor, reasonable overhead and profit margin, then you have a good start.

Sockeye fillets are coming out of Bristol Bay and with the pinbones out. Not from the big processors though. They are, in some cases, backing off from value adding.

I was reading an article in the PI one morning, getting ready to go over to the Pacific Marine Expo., and I thought, how appropriate to what fishermen need to reinvent themselves. It was about a Peter Drucker who was the guru of CEOs, the most influential management thinker of the last century. He was the first to forsee the arrival of "knowledge workers" motivated by personal pride as much as by fear and a paycheck.

Another corollary I want to mention that has to do with getting these product development and marketing innovation associations going comes from a columninst in the same Seattle Post Intelligencer. Daneen Skuhe says that psychologists have a word to describe people who tend to suck up all the responsibility in a room: over-functioning. I see that in some of us that work like mad for nothing, to make things better for a whole lot of others. The presidents of these Regionals are like that. Another is the Canadian writer of the fisheries/politico book "Salmon Wars," Dennis Brown.

On the other hand psychologists also have a word to describe people who take too little responsibility: under-functioning. This describes the fishermen that sit back and support the status quo, slowly warming up in the pot of boiling water like the proverbial frog, and say, "when I see the prices start to rise, I'll think about throwing in with them." People in either pattern tend to get into trouble. The former burn out and flounder and the latter flounder when their leaders flounder.

The trick here for fishermen is to not be afraid of shadows. They are the bravest people I know in a lot of ways, but when it comes to letting go of the apron strings of the cannery, there is a huge disconnect. The people who wrote the Regional Seafood Development Association legislation knew it would be hard for a lot of folks to vote for them and risk the canneries finding them out and cutting them off. That's why only three out of ten need to be brave for the other seven. And the third that vote need to cough up a majority to be for the progam.

The seminar at Pacific Marine Expo., that was basically a concensus building meeting of the Bristol Bay RSDA, was history in the making. I don't know how many people caught that. It got down to brass tacks when one person spoke against the Regional and then everyone else couched their remarks in favor of the program in terms of how narrow minded that guy that spoke against it was.

This post got a long way from products made from waste, but I doubt there will be any impetus to develop new products, even from the basic fish, unless the processor/fishermen relationship changes. Remember processors are called processors because they process fish. If they are allowed to run your life, like the processor in Sand Point that told fishermen they couldn't get home heating oil if they took their fish elsewhere, then I suppose you could call your plant "the Godfather."

This is getting down to brass tacks. So while I'm at it, I'll say it's not only the processors that hold the people of little Alaskan towns captive. When the state ferries started running, people could get on one and go shop at another town where the prices were better. One die hard store mogul met at least one ferry to write down the names of people getting off, for whatever reason. A lot of people use store credit, but this was just laughable for most of them looking to not get robbed in their home town anymore.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Aleutians East Borough opposes processor quotas

This is right from the Aleutians East Borough web site and makes it official that they oppose processor quota shares.

(Bob Juettner wrote me: "The Senate will do its markup on the bill on December 15th! Any help and input people make now will be timely. We are striving for two things: no obligatory relationships between fishermen and processors and a double referendum on any rationalization plan. You need a majority of the affected parties for a council to start a plan; you need a majority of the affected parties to approve it when it is done.")

To whit:

Calling competition among seafood processors a cornerstone to maintaining economically viable fishing communities, the Aleutians East Borough assembly last week officially opposed processor quota shares.

“Processor quota shares are contrary to one of the guiding principles of Alaska’s history, that of promoting the independence of Alaska’s commercial fisherpeople by insuring that processors could not hold Limited Entry Permits after banning fish traps,” reads the resolution.

The resolution was drafted as harvesters and fishing communities around the country prepare for a pair of events that could have a profound effect on coastal communities—reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and consideration of a fisheries management plan for the Gulf of Alaska by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Many fear that language in the reauthorization will encourage processor quota shares, or a guaranteed portion of the harvest to existing processors. Granting quota shares to processors locks competitors out, giving a balance of power to the processors over individual fishermen and local families, according to local harvesters.

“In a rush to make the processors happy, we’re leaving out the skippers and crew,” said Aleutians East Borough Natural Resources Director Beth Stewart. “Our towns have one processor each, leaving our families and residents nowhere else to go.”

The State of Alaska is currently taking public comment on reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens act. A stakeholder’s meeting will be held in Girdwood October 14, 2005 on the issue.