Tuesday, January 03, 2006

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.


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