Monday, January 30, 2006

NOAA to fishing industry, "I take it back."

Ever wonder what happens during some "comment periods" in the federal rules making process. Here's one fairly significant result if you think fishing should be something that your kids should have a crack at. And it only goes to show that your comments do make a difference.

The venerable halibut schooner is more likely to make the March 5 halibut opener than the boats designed for near-shore salmon fishing.

"The rules, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in September, in some instances extended the existing timetable for rebuilding depleted fish stocks. The plan also lowered the standard for recovery plans, which must be written for depleted stocks. The current standard requires recovery plans to have a 90 percent success rate. The revision called for success only half the time. Because of such deficiencies, NOAA received more than 250,000 comments on its updates to National Standard 1. Most of them were negative."

It makes you wonder why our shining knight protector of the oceans even bothers to hire fisheries scientists at all, when they just shoot for a 50% success rate on rebuilding fish stocks. The taxpayers sure could save a bunch of money. It's just that the crud doesn't get traced uphill to it's origin. And when you do, there's not much that can be done about it anyway. Or isn't there?

I have to take it back too, about not harping about the NPFMC. A letter to the editor on laid out a scenario that had three members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's Advisory Panel being given the boot for their skepticism of plans to give fishery resources to non-resident processing plant owners. It sure sounded like the boot was on the foot of the Chairwoman, the processors' lobbyist. (Interesting to watch how Alaska gets the kind of economy it does.) This is social engineering if I ever saw it.

There is simply no way to justify taking opportunity from labor and giving it to capital. Well, that's all right. Fishermen and communities in Alaska might get steamrolled this time, but mark your calenders for your opportunity to see who's on the ballot next time. And count on the processors to pull out all stops while their "man" is in power at the NPFMC. It won't work when the new "recluse" rules come on line. IF they come on line, and IF they have any teeth.

The funny thing is, these people just seem to be living for the moment. That's OK for Paris Hillton, but these are government officials. The future of their organizations and political futures don't seem to matter to them. In Oregon they are boycotting a councilor's business who did them dirt after he refused to recuse himself. If Gulf "rationalization" hits, reality will hit fishermen, who will be forced to deliver to certain plants at the posted price. Sound like buying bread at the government store. Who ya gonna boycott then. Talk about insidious.

At what point does the fish processing sector prima-donna become an albatross for Alaska communities. The community leaders are in a bind, because if they speak up about how "rationalization" can ruin their community, they might not get the state funds for this and that they are always asking for. It looks to me like the processing sector is united behind a governor who looks the other way as communities and fishermen get trashed.

Quotas for fishermen are a fish of a different color entirely. And if you're looking for a better kind of fisheries organization, one that is inherently "clean", look no further than the Regional Seafood Development Associations.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

"....I will do my best to do my duty...."

The title phrase is out of the Boy Scouts of America motto and refers to helping make the country strong. You ever hear the phrase " the country is going to heck in a handbasket?" The lack of the former is the cause of the latter. It's just that simple. So is it just the Boy Scouts who are supposed to think about duty?

Do you think these trollers at Port Alexander even know what an RSDA is?

This is a fisheries blog, so let me put a fisheries spin on the issue. What we have here is a choice that Alaska fishermen can make today: to speak up in public forums, send in testimony, or vote for people and things that have a proven track record elsewhere. This goes for federal fisheries management, State Fish Board business, Fish and Game Advisory Committees, or Regional Seafood Development Association business.

Of course it takes a good grip on the issues to be a help and not a hindrance. Fishermen really can take things into their own hands, and with good information, forge the kind of industry they want, and not something that others want for them. There are a lot of others that think they know best and are counting on fishermen not doing anything.

I see that the National Marine Fisheries Service is trying to resurrect Seafood Marketing Councils, that revolve around a species complex, as opposed to the Alaska model of Regional Associations. My original thesis was for an association that would unify the marketing efforts on single species such as pink salmon. (It's hard to imagine 12 Regionals trying to make a superior claim on their pinks.) So NMFS has a little better idea there; it's just that it isn't in the model of the free enterprise driven Association concept that is at the pinacle of these framework ideas.

And that includes the Institute concept. And the Commission concept. Councils, like these other two of similar ilk, use folks that are appointed by government officials and not the fishermen they are trying to serve. So the councils, institutes and commissions serve, guess who? the people who appointed them. And guess who has the government's ear? the people that own the large economic engines in an industry. So then guess who the appointees end up serving, even without their meaning to? And remember what Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt said about "capital" running things instead of people.

Nevertheless, here's what one author says about our duty: "Americans desert their country and the foundations upon which it was built every time they believe it is another's responsibility to bring about the changes necessary to keep our country strong; every time they run and hide to keep from facing the challenge of standing against a corrupt policy or law."

Doing your duty isn't easy. My son can testify to that after all he did in Iraq, which culminated in his watching one of the biggest despots in history get loaded on a helicopter to be flown off to jail. What I do isn't easy either. Try to see how long you can work pro bono. I just want to encourage anyone that has, or supports, a better mousetrap in the fishing industry, and do my part in helping foster ideas that preclude the rise of little dictators here at home.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

North Pacific Fisheries Management Council Blues

This is about the last I'm going to harp on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Obviously it's a system that's worth saving. Running the fisheries from Washington D.C. is not an option. But running it from Seattle just isn't that much better. Do a study on the percentage of votes that were influenced by Seattle interests since it's inception. At present the Chairman is the lobbyist for the Pacific Seafood Processors Association.

If you ever played "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego" you might feel like guessing where I took this picture. The trolling pole is a hint.

The PSPA is funded by fees "voluntarily" paid by it's members, the shore-based seafood processors, in Alaska in particular. Note this quote from an article on lobbyist reform in Congress: "Leaders from both parties in both chambers have promoted measures to tighten rules and laws governing lawmaker contacts with lobbyists." For pity sakes, the lawmakers in North Pacific fisheries management ARE lobbyists.

Look, it's not my job to fix things, just to give some ideas for others to fix them. And don't count on anyone that is getting a salary to say anything, they got theirs. The only other thing I have to say is that the CDQ groups could support a Regional Seafood Development Association in their area to give the independent fishermen and future fishermen a voice. There are fisheries in Western Alaska that haven't even been touched. It reminds me of some of America's first white settlers, in Jamestown, who starved with such a bounty of seafood just yards away.

There are initiatives that other states are using to ensure the survivability of coastal fishing communities. Their opinion is that you have to DO something and not just talk about good intentions.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Bite out of the Food Chain

Several articles surfaced at the same time on critical components of the marine food chain, and the attacks on these components. I'm referring to herring and krill. Krill being small shrimp-like animals that will swim up the water column to the surface, where shrimp stay near or on the bottom. I've seen the Petersburg harbor full of krill sometimes, and everything imaginable feeding on them. That was the time I climbed down the dock ladder and grabbed a pollack out of the water with one hand. I also took the opportunity to cast a spinner out my kitchen window at my cannery apartment and haul in a cod just to say I did it.

Krill are very important and the reason I can say I caught breakfast out the kitchen window. But I had heard somewhere along the line how they fished for krill in the Antarctic, and it worried the tar out of me. We think pollack nets that are as big as football fields are big. These babies make those look like a butterfly net. Then I heard they pump out the cod end while they are towing and process the krill continuously as they catch them.

Then they feed them to fish in net pens. I also just read that there are 40 cod pen applications pending in British Columbia. The first ocean aquaculture is coming on line in Hawaii. And what else is scary today? The demise of the herring fishery below Ketchikan. What a burn, I helped start that fishery.

But the real issue is whether you really want a void in the food chain. Now, maybe you can do that in the Antarctic and get away with it because you don't have salmon and other human food up the food chain. But on the West Coast you have every commercial fishery there is relying on those components of the marine food web. I really hope Congress does mandate a ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

As I was writing this post, I saw an article about Leland Daniels' son who is a fishmonger in the oldest public market in the country: the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Leland was the tenderman for a gillnet co-op that my brother Steve helped start out of Ketchikan. They had Leland running fish to Seattle like a shuttle bus. That takes energy. Now his son is in the high energy business of selling fish to tourists. Like father, like son.

This was Leland's boat, the "Christian," with a load of herring.

When Leland gave me Jon's card half a dozen years ago and told me what he was doing, it really sounded like a fit. There are a lot of things to do in the fishing business, and when it's a fit it's obvious, and when it's not a fit, that's obvious too. When you have fish stocks crashing all around, you just know a lot of square pegs are trying to be pounded into round holes. Try four crab stocks in Alaska, the shrimp, the pacific ocean perch, and I don't know how many herring stocks.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

All roads lead to Rome, read that, an Association

When I refer to an Association of fishermen, I don't mean the Starfish Gazers Association of Southcentral Baranof Island or some such. I'm talking about something that has the ability to resurrect an industry. Like Florida Citrus Mutual, Ocean Spray Cranberries, or Blue Diamond Almonds. And that hasn't happened yet in the seafood industry.

Picture of a self-contained, DEC approved, processing module.

In the process of modernizing an industry, some of the folks that got in in the early days to skim the cream off the top will have to mend their ways. But they have money to keep the status quo pretty much the same. They have a whole bag of tricks too. In Alaska these folks keep getting their man, and now their woman, put in as Chairman of the NPFMC. Change is not fun for these folks, but it's not been fun for the three quarters of the fleet on the California, Oregon and Washington coast to have to tie up and go home. And now it's happening in Alaska.

But one man in Oregon refuses to go down without a fight. What he is doing reminds me of the intrepid souls in Alaska that are doing the same thing, only he doesn't know it I don't think. And that thing is starting an Association of fishermen (harvesters, primary producers, primary suppliers, first title holders to the product, etc.) for the purposes of not letting the cream skimmers send them down into oblivion.

Don't get me wrong, there are some secondary producers who the primary producers will do well in partnering with. Guys like Alan Beardslee in Kodiak. He gets it, because he came from the grocery and dry goods business and knows the value of maintaining good business relationships.

But this troller in Oregon, who is also an ocean engineering graduate, is trying to get a core group of fishermen in each port to help him market great seafood products without the plethora of middlemen. Sound like the Regional Seafood Development Associations in Alaska? Trollers in Alaska may be getting record prices, $7 - $8 a pound for winter kings, but it's a long way from the $30 a pound that a customer has to pay in New York or Florida. Check this confab on direct marketing out.

The concept is not new, nor is it evolving. It matured in the hands of the Florida orange growers (primary producers) well before WWII to expand the market and provide desirable products, which obviously they did. But this is getting to be an old refrain now. The issue is whether fishermen can work together like farmers can. Time will tell I guess. The Japanese say they like our fish but don't like our fishermen.

But the Kodiak salmon seiners proved that fishermen could stand together and protect themselves, when their backs are against the wall anyway. Without standing together, they just go quietly into the night one at a time. I think the message now in getting the Regional Seafood Development Associations up and running is, "If you don't care about running your fishing operation like a business, at least vote for the Association to give us a chance to save ourselves, and in the process, your chances will improve dramatically without you having to lift a finger."

The individual fisherman doesn't have to know HOW it's going to work, just that it's been proven in every other industry that it DOES work. Very experienced business managers will make it work using time tested business models, and the business plan will change as business conditions change. Heck, I've been working on the concept for 15 years and I don't know exactly how it's going to work.

We know that just negotiating fish prices with the processors DOESN'T work. We know doing nothing DOESN't work. We know antagonistic business relationships DON'T work. The organizers of the Regionals will have to promise that membership makes fishermen's children all grow up to be smart and good looking, that there will be a bull moose in every pot, and that the sun will never set on the organization.

By virtue of the organizers working for free, you have a good dose of compassion built in. Money can't buy that; it's priceless and sits on the balance sheet as an Intangible Asset. Any Association that exists by law is off to a good start. But Associations "lift off" when GOOD MEN decide to NOT TO DO NOTHING and prove they are family men first and sporting men second.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Coastal Communities & Crewmembers count too

Here's a suggestion for the Coastal Communities Coalition in Alaska for when the wrecking crew at the NPFMC gets done. "ShoreBank Enterprise Pacific focuses on building stronger rural communities by recognizing the interdependence of economic, environmental and community health."

I took this picture of the old cannery in Uganik Bay from a float plane. The foamy streak on the water is from the newer cannery up the bay canning humpies. Circa mid '80s.

I don't know if they are in Alaska, but they are active here in Oregon, trying to fix local economies after industry and government failed to get it right. It's just plain logical that crewmembers and community advocates should be factored in when hatching sweeping fisheries management plans. I also know it's human nature to give more credence to the high-liner fisherman than the low-liner. (Sometimes though it's a hot-shot crew that makes a boat successful and not just the captain's incredible genius.)

When I was going to Oregon State, someone did a project to see how much pain one person would inflict on another, when the other person was out of sight. For all the subjects, with the "shock controls," knew, there was a real person in the other room. For a couple of bucks you could get a person to almost "kill" another person. So much for individual Fisheries Management Council members looking out for individuals.

Ever since the Pacific Marine Expo in the fall, I've been meaning to read the documentary book on the salmon wars between United Seiners Association and the shore based fish processors. I've gotten to the part where Moe describes the meetings that called for a stand-down for lack of an acceptable contract for raw fish. She describes the fishermen's pecking order, even in such a homogenous group trying to accomplish the same thing. And the incredible animosity between them and the processors.

It's a crazy business, and often called the "fishing game," because maybe it resembles a game more than a profession. You know, with professionals and all. A regional vice president of a very large seafood company I worked for once, told me he didn't think the president of the company even knew he had a college degree. Anyway, you get some fishermen that have done well, and are operating like a "processor," and everyone seems to think they represent the rest of the fishermen's views. Not.

The book by Moe Bowstern (?), called "XTRA TUF No. 5. came out just last summer, documenting the life of USA from the first "strike" in 1997 until it's demise in recent years. Of course, Xtra Tufs are one brand of bubber shoe pacs that are standard gear for fishermen and are also known as the "Alaska tennis shoe." The title is appropriate. Only a real Alaska fisherman would call their book "Xtra Tuf." And like me she isn't making any money doing it, it's a calling that chooses you. But the book is a must-read for serious students. Call Micocosm Publishing at 503-249-3825.

Now I totally sympathize with fishermen, most of them anyway. Some are stockholders of big canning companies and those guys kinda support their company. Not that they get many dividends, it's mostly just the company's way to get cheap fish. Their company just keeps expanding and expanding with the profits, like the other big companies. And you have smaller groups of fishermen that invest in floaters, and they are out of the equation.

In the '80s a group of 26 or so seiners bought the Uganik Bay cannery, and then they went and struck their own plant! How smart was that? I flew out to that cannery a couple of times from the bank in Anchorage because I was the only one at the bank that knew canneries. I'll tell you, the bank was not too impressed at that degree of professionalism. But I always thought that there should be regular dialogue between all the parties, and there wasn't. Brainstorming and getting creative in the same room. Us at the bank never saw any of the fishermen.

Here's another article, by a Kodiak fisherman. Seems to me the Kodiak Daily Mirror is the only paper that I get news straight from the shoulder. Of course some papers don't want to join the conversation, just make a buck locally. Then in other parts, fishermen don't speak up much, for the rest of the world to hear anyway. And in many other cases, reporters lack the experience to get down to brass tacks, or they are afraid to offend certain advertisers.

Alaska fishermen, of all stripes, and community advocates need to, first of all, write to the NPFMC to head off this processor quota cancer. Who knows where it will stop. Don't get caught up in the piddling justifications, focus on what's right. Secondly, don't give fuel to

Just by using the term "rationalization" and now "ratz" in public documents, it's clear the NPFMC is scoffing at what is right. These terms don't mean anything. They have no definition anywhere. Let's stop using them.

There is a hidden agenda implicit in the use of these terms. The Exective Director of the Council should direct staff and Council members to discontinue using the terms and strike them from public documents. If they won't, it only goes to show they have been directed to pursue the underlying agenda. And that of course is putting their fingers on side of the scales that are occupied by the big money boys. They'll pull it off too, if good men do nothing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Rational or Ratz: what will history say?

Sometimes I just want to let an article stand on it's own in this blog. And be set down in these archives for people entering the discussion later. I take a lot of exception with the justification for crab resource privatization used in this article though. For example, not that many people "knew for years" this was coming. Maybe the owners of the big plants and boats, aka NPFMC, but not the folks who were putting in services for the crab boat fleet or the crews that could have been training for something else while they HAD a job. Like in "don't quit you day job."

And I don't think that those beautiful big Bristol Bay red king crab legs have hardly ANY competition on the world market. Just like Russian caviar. It's just "rationalizing" talk. Like in rationalizing your need to steal the tape deck from that car. Or should we call it "ration speak." Like in, "what a ration of ....." And I suppose ecomomic collapse of the region and "high-grading" comes from rational people? And nobody stopped for the weather like they were supposed to either. The Japanese want their king crab by Christmas or so, so it's always going to be a rush to catch them. The Council knew this, they are the processors.

Some excerpts: "When they went from 250 to 88 vessels in one year, that's not a reduction. That's a collapse. That's a wipe-out," said Kodiak Borough Mayor Jerome Selby.
"At King Cove, a fishing town of 760 people on the Alaska Peninsula, Mayor Henry Mack said crab rationalization has stripped 75 percent of income for local businesses, along with a number of skipper and crew jobs."

Well, without further ado, here's the article from the Kodiak Daily Mirror and Ms. Bauman.

When one of my readers wrote the following, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry: "To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, "When they take roll call at the North Pacific Fisheries Managment Council, they don't know whether to say present, or guilty"."

And I don't buy this business that the NPFMC is such a shining example of stewardship of the resources. It has been the circumstances of the North Pacific fisheries themselves that has protected the stocks: the vast expanses of ocean, the foul weather a lot of the year, no trawl fleet at all when the NPFMC took over. Where are all the pacific ocean perch, the pink shrimp, the king crab?

You scratch the surface and I'll bet the Chairman of the NPFMC, who is the big shore based processors lobbyist, is just making a grab for quotas before the RSDAs can come on line. This is the second time a PSPA lobbyist was Chairman. How many times has a representative for coastal communities been Chairman?

Here's another ratz article.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

What's Abe Linclon got to do with "rationalization"?

"Rationalization" may well be still on the drawing boards by the staff at the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. If you have something to say in defense of labor over capital, drop them a line. It is obvious to me, and I think to most other observers, that when the NPFMC implemented crab "rationalization" they were really just guessing at the outcome. Not that they have lost much sleep in the interim it seems. No apologies forthcoming over the loss of 800 or so fishing jobs in one crack. And the loss of business in all those communities that supported the 160 large crab boats that are no longer fishing.

I thought it a funny comparison to a study someone is doing with halibut fishermen on "guessing" how best to run their businesses. The article states: "Researchers suggest that people tend to use simplifications or rules of thumb -- called heuristics -- to aid in the complex task of making decisions under uncertainty. These rules of thumb can lead to errors or mistakes, and there is tremendous interest in the academic community to try and uncover how these various heuristics influence decisions,"

No need to belabor the point. But I hope in the next stab at granting special privileges to access public fish resources, the Council and other researchers will consider the words of our most revered statesmen. It is generally agreed that these men, starting with Jefferson, weren't guessing, but building on the wisdom of the ages. This is what Abraham Lincoln said about crab "rationalization." Well, maybe something comparable to it:

"...but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them, and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers, or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life."
"Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed; nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless."

Lincoln built on Jefferson's concept of "the earth belonging to the living," implying that it doesn't belong to capital. And Roosevelt built on Linclon's work for his thesis of the "square deal." I guess the crux of the matter is whether you believe there are "versions" of the truth, or not. And whether you think the "Bill of Rights" is a "living document, or not."

These are the yardsticks we should be using to put people on these fishery management councils, and in the Governor's office for that matter, since he appoints some of those council members. Heck, there's one council member in Hawaii that has a long record of helping wipe the lobsters out, with the fines to prove it. It looks like the Council there fights tooth and nail with EVERYONE to work those fisheries over. Even when the oldtimers say the fisheries aren't sustainable because there aren't enough nutrients in those waters.

The public should be demanding an end to heuristics and a fisheries management style that we can be proud of.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Equal rights: the common thread

Some days when I think about blogging there is a thread stringing together a number of articles, e-mails and conversations in the past 24 hours. In the last day there has been a deluge of information on special privileges to our fish resources that seems destined to wind up here. One reader from Western Alaska (don't ever underestimate those Western Alaskans) must have picked up on where I was going with the "elephant in the room" thread and sent me Teddy Roosevelt's famous 1910 speech on nationalism.

This old cannery is a little far gone, but maybe it would grandfather in for some processor quota shares.

Of course the elephant in the room I refer to is priviledged access to all the fishery resources by the processing sector, that many don't seem to want to admit is there. You have to have worked in the bowels of the industry to see what direction people are going in. But you can't say much until you get something solid, like the processor who said, "We bought the plant for it's production history." Read that "processor quota shares in the future."

And that was a salmon plant and not that recently either. I heard today that another of the big processing companies bought a small salmon processor in Bristol Bay. Another of the "big three" acquired a going concern processor on the other side of the Peninsula. Consolidation has been going on throughout the entire history of the industrialized chapter of the Alaska seafood business though.

Getting big enough to achieve a critical mass of efficiency of scale that is unbeatable is the Walmart way and the aspiration of any corporation. But States are looking askance at Walmart building a world empire basically on the backs of it's minimal wage empolyees, without health benefits. And the effects on downtowns everywhere is, well you know.

Do we need to disrupt all the downtowns of coastal Alaska communities before someone figures out that processor quota shares are building world fish processing companies on the backs of lower paid fishermen? If fishermen are even going to be needed. The definition of a fisherman includes being an independent businessman. Fishermen that would willingly give that up, in some versions of "rationalization," are selling their birthright and really aren't fishermen anymore. Not my opinion, just by definition.

I know fishermen are afraid of standing up to the processors for fear of getting cut off from their market. I set out to work in the processing industry, with just the right degree and experience, etc., only to find that the yoke was hard and the burden heavy. I was innovating like crazy but not having any fun. This can be remedied though. It is possible to get creative new blood in the processing sector, and give security to the fishermen as well. The solution? First read what Teddy Roosevelt said about prividedged access.

"Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled."
Following this warning against special privilege, he warns of the dangers of the undue influence of special interests: "Now, this means that our government, National and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit."

The implication here is clear. That special priveleges will divide a society. This is the exact opposite of the direction Alaska needs to be heading to extract the most from it's seafood resources and to provide security and safety for the citizenry of it's coastal communities. If the way doesn't seem clear, talk to Paul Southland or Bob Waldrop.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Packaging with a flourish, "the elephant in the room"

You have to see this seafood packaging job. The master article on product packaging is HERE. I don't know if the fishermen that are going to be voting on Regional Seafood Development Associations know how important packaging is. There is a little about the subject in this article. Probably just enough to blow away the fog from "pea soup" to one mile visibility.

Packaging is dictated by your target audience. You don't have to think about it until that audience is identified, disected and described every which way but loose. I did a lot of work on label development alone once and even approached a big canner about doing a test run with a couple of labels I have. They just aren't as interested in boosting sales as you might think.

I also don't think it's common right now in the current consolidated processing situation to follow up on sales to see if fresh and frozen salmon is being presented correctly. ASMI tries to address this for the large canners with training materials. But look at this synopsis of a large buffet operation in the South: "Teriyaki salmon, though nicely cooked, smelled and tasted fishy." That might have been farmed salmon anyway. But it's worrying for fishermen trying to make boat payments; to leave the consumer's salmon experience to others who might not have as much at stake. And you can figure that the canners and big cold storages are getting their cut irregardless.

There is a small cadre of folks who are from the industry who are rooting that the bulk of the fishermen wake up to "the elephant in the room." Stay tuned for a look at the elephant in the next week or so, about the only time you can count on a fisherman being around his computer.

It was very worrying to me to hear today about one large processor's comment to a stockholder, on purchasing an outdated plant: "It's the production record that's valuable here." If you are just starting to smell the roses, that has the earmarks of "rationalization" and "processor quota shares" written all over it.

Fishermen should be scared into running to their closest RSDA and signing up. But like the guest speaker on national news said about the blunders of the Democratic Senators in the Alito confirmation hearings, "I don't think that many people were watching." That's what those people that have been keeping the salmon industry in disaray are counting on.

The Dungy pot inventor, conical pots and black cod pots.

Ever wonder where some of the designs of things in the fishing industry came from? The gaps in my education of crab pot design just got plugged to a great degree by this fine article about an intrepid Newport, OR fisherman. He started working on prototypes of the current round design with steel mesh during the Great Depression. Then pioneered ocean fishing for dungies. Eventually going to Alaska and fishing dungies in the ocean up there.

When I got around to managing a plant, we blast froze sections of snow crab, aka. bairdi, or tanner crab.

An excerpt: "He and his two brothers saved the money to buy a small fishing boat The Falcon, the day after he graduated from high school. At that time Dungeness crabbing was done mostly in the bays, beaches and along the rocks of river mouths. But they began to "ocean crab," modifying the tall, square wood-and-string shore pots through experimentation with materials and sizes, ultimately producing the round, wire-mesh pot used in the Pacific Ocean today."

I wonder if he was running one of the boats we had fishing for us at Yakutat in 1971. We were brine freezing the dungies at the new cold storage there. (It burned down only a few years later.) We practically filled up the holding room with boxes of whole frozen crab, then flew them out on cargo planes.That was the year Louie Busanich seined roe herring for us at Whitney-Fidalgo in Yakutat then got stuck up in Russel Fjord. We had to air-drop him supplies with the DC-3 we were using to haul reds from Dry Bay.

But Petersburg had a couple of crab pot inventors as well. The two old gents that ran the Charles T were some of the first that fished for "spider crab." (That was before they invented the phrase "snow crab" to keep housewives from getting the willies.) They started using square king crab style pots but halibut would ram themselves through the openings. So they made some traps conical shaped, with the opening in the top like a trap-door spider's hole. It worked great in all respects. My father said that those two guys, running that old wooden boat of 1920s vintage, put more money in their back pockets than anyone in Petersburg. At least for their 15 minutes of fame.

Another pot design that showed up, that I played a small role in bringing to Alaska, was the collapsible, double-tunnel black cod pot. My brother Steve had asked me if I could find a design for a black cod pot. I ended up driving to Astoria and getting a blueprint for a double-tunnel black cod pot from Alan Otness, who was the Marine Extension Agent there at the time. I found out years later that the same guy that did a surf clam biomass survey in Bristol Bay for NMFS and some big East and West Coast fish processors was also instrumental in designing the black cod pot in tests off the mouth of the Columbia.

Pots are a very cost effective way to catch fish and shellfish. And you can throw most of your by-catch and little ones back alive. Probably half a dozen years after Steve fished the first black cod pots in Alaska, the St. Dominic brought us a load of live black cod from pots. I remember watching Don Williams trying to grade them live. He didn't appreciate the "freshness" when he had to put one on the scale. Pots were just too effective for black cod and are now only allowed for Pacific cod fishing in some areas of the Gulf.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Ecosystem approach to Fisheries Management

This is what the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization document prescribes for the nation's fisheries at this point. Who knows how that document will evolve in the future. But I wondered if this approach isn't tied to the efforts of one Larry Merculieff, an Aleut leader from St. Paul Island, in the middle of the Bering Sea.

Computers can now spit out stuff on the ecosystem that few people see, like color bathymetric charts, this one of the Aleutians.

Larry had come to Alaska State government as an appointee of Gov. Steve Cowper. He was the Commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Economic Development when I was appointed to do a project in infrastructure development for the Department. Larry had seen some massive die-offs of sea birds around the Pribilof Islands and thought fisheries management should take everything into account. This Reauthorization document could be his vindication.

They like their birds out there. They have millions of them, and when they start dying, they want to know why. And if whatever is causing it will affect the fisheries in the area. Back in the early '90s though, the uniform interest in an ecosystem approach was characterized by Clark Gable's famous line, "Quite frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

That was the first and last I heard of the ecosystem approach to fisheries management until this reauthorization work on the MSFMC Act. A recent article said: "The wave of the future is something far more sophisticated: so-called “ecosystems” management, with all the different species managed together, and other marine life also considered. The Magnuson Act reauthorization, as currently drafted, would require that new approach, and the New England council supports it, Fiorelli said."

I'm sure a lot transpired in these regards since I worked under Larry in the early '90s. That the issue never did go away, and maybe he was the "lone ranger" on the issue, but probably not. I saw other people looking at the issue too at the time.

On a trip to the Pribilofs for the State, I poked around but didn't get a feel for the ecosystem since it was winter. I did get a feeling that these people weren't about to give up on living on those islands. And I got a feel for how big the rocks were that made up the new breakwaters, as I strolled around in the grottos between the elephant sized boulders.

I get a headache just thinking about how an ecosystems approach to fisheries management might work. I saw a diagram once of the the connections between the life forms in the Bering Sea. Dozens of species, each connected to numerous of the others. The Fishery Management Councils will no longer be made up of talking heads, but talking computers. The council members seem to have their hands full anyway, deciding who to make points with by deeding the resources away.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Social Entrepreneurship and Seafood

The article hyper-linked here came in today from a fellow crusader in White Mountain. That's up by Nome. To dispel the notion that Western Alaska villages are passe, this guy quotes Pythagoras. He is also developing a strategy for bridging the economies of Western Alaska and the Far East of the Russian Federation. How cool is that?

Flying around to Western Alaska villages: Dan Buckwalter and I made some rounds in his Cherokee for Village Missions in Homer.

Anyway, the gist of the article is probably summed up by one of the founders of Ben and Jerry's. An excerpt from the article: "He also created Catalytic Health, a for-profit company that still focuses on social responsibility. Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, an informal advisor to Catalytic Health, says, “The key to sustainable capitalism is reasonable profits as opposed to maximizing profits…. What you need to do is combine the sensibility of the social enterprise with the form of a for-profit business.”

Part of this article focuses on the support, or lack of, for social entrepreneurs. It takes a long time for people to get their minds around a new concept. There are solutions out there for a great number of problems we are faced with. I should know. I have been promoting my patented solution to the problem of lifting the infirm for almost seven years now. People like the Oregon Nurses Association call me up and say, "where's your chair." And all I can say is, "I just don't have the money to make them for you, and I know you don't have any, so we're kind of stuck aren't we."

Is what struck me about the article is it's relevance to the fledgling movement in the Alaska seafood industry to create Regional Seafood Development Associations. I blog about them all the time because I became convinced fifteen years ago that the concept is a better mousetrap for Alaska. The big Seattle-based fish processors in Alaska have had a colonial attitude, (and still do) that has precluded a partnering with fishermen for the betterment of the industry and the communities in Alaska. I even penned the white paper "Alaska Fisheries Renewal Campaign" (of which I found my original of yesterday) when I worked at the Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development.

That "campaign" was finally picked up on by the Murkowski administration a couple of years ago after fishermen's incomes dropped to record lows. (I describe the history of these efforts and my "lone ranger" years on this concept in early blogs of mine. I was even persecuted by my Department for suggesting the idea. Of course, in the early '90s the big processors' lobbyist in Juneau was still threatening people's jobs if they didn't toe the company line. Certainly there is no such influence today.......)

The point is, are the processing profits excessive, fair, too low, or what? in comparison to fishermen's profit margins, including opportunity costs. Are fishery managers following a social conduct code of ethics? Are any ethical standards written down for the seafood industry version of capitalism? I suggest there is a lot lacking in the way the Alaska seafood industry conducts business and that the Alaska RSDAs are inherently designed to remedy the situation.

If you like Ben and Jerry's ice cream, you'll like the RSDAs.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Upscale seafood chain restaurants, Marine safety, more Fisheries Politics 101, Gulf Rationalization dies

Upscale seafood restaurants:

When you get to $75.00 a plate for surf and turf in a chain restaurant, you're not talking about taking two year old. Or are you, when the ketchup is in the Heinz bottle on the table? In any event, this article gives a look at what constitutes a niche market for very high quality seafood. You're talking Tasmanian steelhead, and more different kinds of oysters than you'll be able to remember.

Marine safety association:

This is not a popular topic with fishermen since it doesn't add to the bottom line. You can visualize catching more fish with that new Pullmaster, but nobody wants to visualize going overboard. Maybe that's what's needed, a little visualization training. Then you'd get people taking the safety courses in droves.

Kodiak processor's take on king crab deliveries there:

Kodiak pioneered king crab processing, yet they only qualified for a tiny percentage of processor quota shares when crabbing went "rational." And I get worried when a leading fishery consultant in Kodiak says crab "rationalization" is the most complicated management strategy in the world and implies that it is incomprenensible.

That implies that the North Pacific Council are the brightest and best of all the fisheries managers in the world and us common folk needn't concern ourselves with understanding their work. Either that or they have created a monster that threatens to replicate itself and constrict the spread of economic benefit.

One thing is for sure, there are laws against destroying the economic foundation of communities on purpose, to benefit the few title-holders of capital fisheries assets. This tends to disprove the "best and the brightest" theory.

Mixing zone news:

Is what gets me about the DEC's new rules allowing some discharge into salmon spawning streams is the part about showing that a discharge won't hurt salmon. You can imagine how a mining company will represent their discharges. There's no room for an "oops" in this business of tampering with the spawning beds.

Gulf Rationalization has died on the vine:

Representative LaRoux of Kodiak says, "Many of you have talked with me personally and I have attended many forums on the issue of Gulf rationalization. Last session I held Senate Bill 113 in the Special Committee on Fisheries of which I am co-chair because I wanted to gather more information. Having done so, I am now of the mind that this bill should stay in committee and I have no plans to move it out of committee. As far as I am concerned, this bill is dead. "

Byrd Ammendment lives?

"The legislation would postpone repeal of the so-called "Byrd amendment" until October 2007, according to the House Ways and Means Committee. Duties collected up to then as the result of trade disputes will continue to go to the individuals and companies that backed the complaints. After that, the money will go to the federal treasury."

Quick, back some complaints!

Finally, I've been saying this for years too. She said, "Maura, it really is awful cleaning the canned salmon but well worth the effort." The problem is, young people get hung up on the "awful" part. The salmon canneries know this. They just don't want to re-tool the plants. They have selling out on the brain. Icicle just about sold out awhile back to BCCI Bank, except it was found to be a swindle attempt of Arab investors. The Brindels sold all their canneries a couple of years ago, seeing the handwriting on the wall in my opinion.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Grants, Seafood Festival, Yukon king getting smaller? Highlights from 2005.

An alert from the Southeast Regional Seafood Development Association on Vessel Upgrade Grants:

Geoff Whistler will be in the City Council Chambers in Wrangell 1/9/2006 starting at 3PM and staying untill everyone interested has had all their questions pertaining to grant applications answered. If enough interest is generated within the fleets SEAK Rainforest WILD will hold workshops in other communities. Pleased contact Paul Southland or Nedia Voltz with questions, or to pick up copies of the grant applications. 907-874-3400

Sample of a fun State Seafood Festival:

If I was going to throw a real party, this is the kind of thing I'd do. And at $10 admission, for locally produced libations and seafood, it should be a real hit. The live music has to be more of a central feature. Sometimes at these things the band is so far back in the wings and the volume turned down so low you don't even know they are there. It should be about having a good time first of all, and making business contacts second. Just swap cards and do your talking later on the phone.

The Yukon king salmon is getting smaller by many accounts:

Now that's a real burn when you're expecting some nice sizers. Some old-timers don't believe it, but some fishery managers say the evidence is strong.

Highlights from 2005:

Including Laine Welch's Best and Worst of 2005 list. Notice that three of the worst were spawned by the same intrepid State Legislator. I'd personallly like to learn how to fly fish live without water. That would keep spoilage down. Let the fish do the quality control. Makes sense.

The roe herring blues.

The Russians are coming! Only this time they really are, but with cheap herring in their hands. The roe herring market has been hit hard enough with the weakened Japanese economy, a new generation of Japanese eating less of the traditional foods, and more of the international fare begging for the Japanese consumers' yen.

Brailing herring works sometimes, sometimes the herring spook and dive, threatening to take the boat with them.

So U.S. herring traders are enlisting the U.S. Consul General's office in Sapporo to help promote consumption of salted herring roe and Alaska herring. I don't know how long that will last before people in that office get tired of talking to Japanese school children. Presumably they have other things to do as well. But here's the newspaper article.

Herring are such a healthy little fish. Just packed with omega-3s. And if you just deal with mature herring, you're talking about herring pushing a foot long. Cooked up the way some Japanese roe technicians did it for us on a tender one time, wow! They simmered a couple of big fresh herring with the eggs still in, in soy sauce and brown sugar. I canned some fall herring in one pound cans once too and they were the finest kind.

Maybe we should be looking in other directions to market Alaska herring too. Just like black cod is going into the U.S. market and finding a warm reception these days. After all, there is a resurgence of seafood dining in the wind. Fish is getting more and more PR, especially fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. Even the lowly mackerel are being touted. Herring would be too if it had a presence in the U.S. market at all.

Alaskan fishermen and processors love to do things the same way. It's comfortable. When I ran herring operations through the '70s, the company I worked for had been involved in herring in the reduction days in Alaska. So when roe herring came along, they could kind of see the point in getting involved, especially since they were 98.5% Japanese owned. But the management figured you could run the grounds operations just like in the old days. Other companies around us would be pumping their tenders full with the new submersible herring pumps while we tried to brail the herring out of the fishermen's seines. Neither the fishermen or the herring were inclined to put up with that, so the progressive companies got all the business.

The point would be to look at marketing Alaska herring with a new set of eyes. Sometimes it just takes getting some new blood on the job. I reckon that if the big processors in Alaska don't find new markets, the new Regional Seafood Development Associations will, and they'll take over the processing job as well.

Probably the big breakthrough in the Alaska seafood industry will be when government agencies quit refering to a handful of men as "the industry" and think about the 99.9% of everybody else with some involvement as industry players as well, and just as deserving of respect. If the Alaska State Government wants to talk about "revitalization," they need to get some key agencies like ASMI to start talking the lingo of revitalization and drop the old colonialist terms. Otherwise the Alaska seafood industry will be looking ahead through the dust of the Russians as well as the Norwegians and Chileans.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Grants for vessel upgrades available now.

This grant program has been an awful long time in coming. In the early '90s, fisheries white elephants were being built all over the place in Alaska at the same time many salmon seiners were wondering how to upgrade their boats. Then some canneries started selling their tenders and requiring fish to be brought in at a certain temperature. Of course the only way to do that was to have refrigeration on-board.

Even the jig boats out of Dutch Harbor, like this one, could use RSW, even though it's the salmon fleet that really needs it the most.

Those seiners that just couldn't swing tanking their boats and putting in a refrigerated sea-water system, had no choice but to get out of the business. Those boats weren't worth much by then. I saw a lot of this in the villages in Southeast. This new program under the "revitalization" banner might save a couple of operations that somehow are still around with the permit attached. This is time sensitive information. Applications have to be in before June 2006.

There were some real cute little RSW systems at the Pacific Marine Expo that would go into most gillnetters OK. Most of the big aluminum Bristol Bay gillnetters could easily fit one of these in the engine room. Of course the hold would need to be insulated and coated. I was asked a long time ago to head up a program to put compact refrigeration units in a gillnet fleet. I can't remember why I didn't do it, except the pile of reefer units we had to work with came off reefer vans and I wasn't too keen on spending that much time in the bowls of gillnet boats.

These guys in Port Townsend (It was a Port Townsend connection that wanted me to get into this about 20 years ago.) have a whole line of self-contained refrigeration systems; blast freezers, hatch mounted on-board freezing systems, titanium or copper/nickel chillers for the line of RSW systems.

I remember going around to nine different communities in S.E. and lecturing on salmon quality for the University of Alaska once. Man, it was like looking at racoons in the headlights back then when talking to fishermen about salmon quality. That look won't disappear easily, but for the fishermen that lose the look, the world will become their oyster.