Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Corrections, projections and RFID

I just have to take a breather and get some other things done, so I'll catch up on corrections, especially before they get too old. Recently I sent a piece to the editor of AlaskaReport for publishing in the Letters to the Editor, written by lifelong Alaska fisherman Victor Smith. Victor wants to fine tune the piece so here's his changes.

We dug steamer clams in Lincoln Channel waiting for some herring to show up. This was a year before the commercial roe herring gillnet fishery in S.E. started.

"The piece I sent you--"But it's all just a coincidence" was a hurried draft and I hadn't run my spell checker or, unfortunately, my "fact checker". While the essential facts are correct, for the record I'd like to correct the chronology. The conversation I had with Bret Barnicutt in which he told me about witnessing Tom Manos writing a check to Murkowski's campaign occurred after I learned of Senator Stevens meeting in Petersburg in the spring of 2002(to pitch "rationalization") and Manos's interest in cod rationalization. That was the context in which Barnicutt brought up Manos's contribution. My conversation with Chad Peterman about the sale of the Solstice occurred in the spring of 2003, not 2002. Also, I expect the sale of Manos's boat closely approximated the timing of his appointment to the Southeast Revitalization Committee, the entity South East Alaska Seiners created to administer the buyback they were pursuing. Sorry for the mix-up." Victor "

And I have to give credit where credit is due on my article about Walmart deciding to go with sustainably caught fish. I was commenting on an AP article, but Elizabeth Bluemink of the Juneau Empire, refers us to her original article that the AP got their information from. Sorry I didn't see your article first Elizabeth.

Some projections for 2006 from the ADF&G site: http://www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us/FedAidPDFs/sp06-07.pdf

The Southeast Alaska pink harvest is projected to be 52 million as opposed to a harvest in 2005 of 57 million.
The troll chinook harvest is projected to be significantly higher than 2005 which had the second highest harvest since statehood. Good going to the ADF&G and the U.S./Canada Treaty Negotiating Team.
The golden king crab harvest in 2005 in Southeast was 525,000 lbs.
The red king crab harvest in 2005 in Southeast was 201,000 lbs.
1.3 million lbs of sea cucumbers were harvested last year in S.E.
5.7 million lbs of red sea urchins were harvested last year in S.E.
403,800 lbs of geoduck clams and 235,000 lbs of weathervane scallops and 850,000 lbs of pot caught prawns were also harvested in S.E. last year.
The Yakutat dungeness crab stocks are still collapsed and there is still no sign of recovery.

More soon on the projections, from strip-mining that annual compendium of Fish and Game's.

Another keeper article on RFID fish tracking using GPS. The State of Alaska is funding it so you should be able to get some results. Although the manufacturer of the equipment seems pretty sure it'll work and probably no reason it wouldn't, unless someone tampered with the sending unit. But then maybe you could put the unit in a "dummy carton."

Monday, February 27, 2006

Fish traps and "rationalization"

When you read these excerpts, do what the reader from White Mountain suggests, substitute "rationalization" for "fish traps" and see if it doesn't sound like what is happening in fisheries politics today.

Giving away Alaska's resources may be the way they do business in Washington D.C., but not in Alaska. Alaska may need a referendum on "rationalization."

"We Alaskans charge emphatically and can prove that the fish trap is a menace to a continued successful operation of fisheries in Alaska. By this measure you would legalize the destruction of the major industry of Alaska and jeopardize the livelihood of the many resident workers, of the many small businesses; in whole, the entire economic structure of Alaska. For what? The continued exploitation of Alaskan resources by an absentee monopoly that must have a profit far in excess of that of any other business."
--RR Warren, a resident Alaska fisherman, testifying before the U.S. Senate on a bill to formally lease fish trap sites to persons, 1948
Senator Moore: The claim is made -- and it looks rather a reasonable thing to us -- that if you eliminated the trap you would be eliminating the most efficient operation up there....
Delegate Bartlett: That, I think, Mr. Chairman, is the desire of the people of Alaska -- for the simple reason that they feel that the trap is too efficient. It is like other things in this world that are regulated and governed sometimes out of existence because they do away with employment.

And: "The attempt to "enclose" the fisheries by executive order met with fierce legal and political resistance from Alaskans. The White Act of 1924 was the result of the ensuing political battle and remained the foundation of all further federal regulation through 1959. The act prescribed an escapement goal of 50% of all Salmon and allowed the Secretary of Commerce to regulate all aspects of Alaska salmon fishing except for access to the fishery. No "exclusive right of fishery shall be granted." The House version of the bill abolished fish traps, but the Senators from Washington blocked that provision."

If Governor Murkowski, in his "rational" experiment in social engineering, wanted more efficiency in the seafood industry, then give the gillnetters 800 fathom gillnets and the seiners the ability to have tuna seiners if they wanted. That would have the same effect, few fishermen in the end producing a lower cost fish.

Fishermen should realize that when "rationalization" is cast in concrete, a few chosen boats will be used to harvest the crop. Just enough equipment to get the job done. They will be the oversize boats, and fishing will be like working for giant agri-businesses. You go out at 4 in the morning to the spot the company tells you to go and come back at night with the potatoes.

Again, this is not fiction, this is what is happening and what these fledgling agri-busineses have in mind for the other fisheries too. Since we got AlaskaReport going like it is, people have been sending in first hand accounts. And these are lifelong Alaskan industry insiders who have had good standing in the community. And other researchers like the occsional newspaper reporter. It's all coming to a head this spring.

Personally I believe the "rationalization" folks are rabid about getting a quick victory before the fisherman controlled Regional Seafood Development Associations can gain any momentum. The RSDAs need representatives on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, on the Council Advisory Panels, on the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee of the Department of Commerce, in leadership in the National Fisheries Institute, the United Fishermen of Alaska, and that's just a start. That is if fish traps are still against the will of the people and there are good folks that will step up to the plate like RR Warren.

But first of all, by all means, vote for your nearest RSDA or fishermen won't have the political power to blow the water out of a fuel line. If they didn't need political power, why did 800 fishermen lose their jobs in one fishery alone recently? And that's with over 55 fishermen's organizations in Alaska. Divide and conquer. They are just the wrong kind of organization. They can't help the fish prices either. Guess how many fisheries there are in Alaska. There are 62 in Southeast Alaska alone.

And I'll say again that City Managers and Mayors are remiss in their duties by sitting on the sidelines in this struggle for fishermen's livelihoods. A little dilligence in studying the issues and they might have a real epiphany.

I have to relate a story along these lines because Stephen Taufen is writing in detail these days on the economics of resource extraction and why Alaska isn't benefiting nearly as much as it could. And why, in some cases, the return is so little that the social fabric is in jeapordy, i.e., King Cove.

Here it is. I agreed to get the Douglas, AK cold storage going one time. So I brought an industrial electrician friend along to meet the Juneau electrical department at the plant's transformer. My friend demonstrated with his meter that one leg was shorted out. The upshot was ...........nothing. The city didn't do anything about it. The plant had an inherent electrocution hazard and they didn't care. Several years later the plant burned down completely.

A good example regarding not following through by city folks when they have the proof something is amiss. Coastal cities in Alaska know all too well that their ecomomy is mostly driven by fishermen. Just ask Stanley Mack, the Mayor of the Aleutians East Borough, the first region of Alaska to bite the dirt through "rationalization."

"Rationalization" needs to be banned in the Alaska Constitution just like fish traps were, it's plain and simple.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

What does Joe Hill, labor visionary, have to do with the NPFMC

"With the toothless labor laws that we have, the situation currently is that the company always seems to hold the only vote the government recognizes and the only one that seems to count. Everyone knows that this is in large part why unions are so weak in this country. The corporations get away with it now, but the time may come when others rise up like Joe Hill against these injustices. It is still possible that more blood may be shed, because all will not always cooperate with this unjust system. Then there may be hell to pay."
Mike Lehman Urbana, Illinois

I've been remiss in passing on some pertinent research done by a reader in White Mountain, Alaska. ( My condolences to you folks in White Mountain who lost your historic and vitally important middle and high school to fire recently.) He's giving me the real classic education I missed by going to Oregon State University. He gave me Voltaire (that pillar of social entrepreneurship) to read last week. This week it's Joe Hill.

These people from our past forced great strides in the economic condition of the working man. But we are going backwards in the Federal and State push to take away free enterprise from fishermen and make them work for the shore plant owners, a forced servitude. From independent businessman to "sea worker," as opposed to "shore work." I'm not exagerating or making this up. Gov. Murkowski says he opposes it in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in D.C., but is pushing full bore for it right now in Alaska.

The Fish and Game Commissioner is the one delegated by the Murkowski administration to push it in the NPFMC. He calls it a "forced co-op." The shore plants would set the ex-vessel price and you could figure they would weed out a lot of boats with the government's blessing as being just too many. Of course they could control fewer boats; the objections would be fewer. Needless to say the communities would suffer, like the West Coast Seafood Processors Association details.

But the WCSPA goes on to say: "Simply providing for the economic welfare of the fishing fleet while leaving the processing sector in economic disarray is not going to solve the problem." (They are speaking of vessel buybacks.) What disarray I wonder? They go on to say: "An essential part of an IQ system will be a need to recognize the investments made by processors and keep them economically viable."

Since when has the government needed to keep any business viable, except maybe the Savings and Loan Associations? When have the processors cared about the viability of fishermen and the communities they live in? I could fill a book with examples. The economist the NPFMC, and now the Alaska Department of Fish and Game uses, has a real burr under his saddle regarding fishermen. He has been discredited by his peers, and he is still working? That sounds like the government has an agenda to me.

That brings up the subject of solutions. This loose cannon of an economist should be subjected to peer review in the future, including anything ongoing he is part of. The Arabs even suggested they undergo more review before taking over all the East coast ports. What proof can this economist give to show that "processors" have a social conscience and would do any more than export the round fish like the logging companies exported the round logs. Now that the ADF&G is paying this person to further Governor Murkowski's agenda, the Legislature could rectify this situation. C'mon guys, and gals, you can protect your towns if you want to.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Sound bites in campaign shouldn't drive fisheries policy

It worries me when candidates say they are going to take money out of the general fund to support seafood marketing. It's just apple pie and motherhood stuff, but it could go aray.

A new microwave canning process will use 1/7th the power and a whole lot less fresh water than canning in steel cans. Ryan will probably sell it in modular form too.

The Legislature saw fit to create Regional Seafood Development Associations as a way to harness that vast pool of industry knowledge, the fishermen, for the overall benefit of themselves, the communities and the rest of the supply chain including the consumer.

The Legislature created them, they didn't adopt them. No red-headed step-children there. This is finally a means for the ten thousand odd fishermen to market themselves to the world. Alaska is many decades late in adopting this approach that has brought prosperity to all the other producers that use it. The only way to have healthy communities is to have healthy fishermen.

The processors have been the sole purveyors of marketing Alaska seafood to date, notwithstanding a State agency that helps them do this. The fleets are in serious decline under this structure. The RSDAs aren't a bandaid or "let's give this a whirl," they are highly evolved mechanisms that the entire rest of the world uses.

The gubernatorial candidate that stands up for the RSDAs, and fishermen, will sure get my vote, and probably a lot more. And if they can speak knowledgeably about what the immense struggle that is going on in the seafood industry now, well, they probably have a shoe in. "Processors," for the most part, are a non-resident thing. Alaska gave them their own state agency, ASMI, and even taxed Alaska resident fishermen for a long time to support them. The "processors" got their little thing going, now it's time to get the fishermen's thing going.

Candidates will have to be careful not to fall into the trap of using sound bites like, "seafood marketing monies," or they may get hoodwinked into going down a road that is not good for fishermen. If there is a sound bite to be used it's "what's good for fishermen is good for the communities." Monies might be earmarked for marketing and here the first thing that needs to be done is get the RSDAs on their feet organizationally. A pot of marketing money wouldn't do them any good if they didn't have the organization to use it wisely. Fishermen will thank the candidates to refrain from treating them casually by the use of seafood sound bites.

P.S. The B.B. permit holders have an RSDA organizational meeting on Monday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Corrections to Vessel Upgrade Program post

New information has it that the rules in the Vessel Upgrade program were changed in mid-stream. I'm relieved to find out that there is no challenge to the basic program. And changing the rules on a whim doesn't surprise me, if that's what happened. I worked there.

This picture has nothing whatsoever to do with this post. It was one of the first pictures I took with my new gear after retiring the 1940s vintage Argus I started with in 1970 in the Bay.

I also saw rules come out of thin air when I applied in 1991 for a grant to start up the RSDA concept.Would that other people like Gov. Murkowski would change their minds when given new information. He reminds me of President Bush about now.

Bush seems to have dug his heels in regarding giving charge of the chief U.S. ports to an Arab company. Gov. Murkowski has dug his heels in to support giving living marine resources to big corporations in perpetuity. Just because Sen. Stevens started pushing for this give-away doesn't mean two wrongs make a right. And all in the face of overwhelming public revulsion for the idea and all those pushing it.

But I'm getting off the subject. The reader that e-mailed me set the record straight(?) on the vessel upgrade program. Even if he looks at supporting Alaska residents with such a program differently, truth is truth. We should all be seekers of the truth so we don't go down in flames. Remember those two U.S. Presidents in the '70s? I wish our leaders well, but nobody can protect them from themselves. Maybe this blog's mission is to point out the truth so these kinds of people will go down in flames before becoming our leaders. 550,000 hits on the AlaskaReport site in the last 45 days says the truth will get out in the seafood industry in Alaska.

So here's to the courage and integrity of the fisherman who put his name on a letter seeking to set the record straight and sent it in for publication. Think about this: if you don't help straighten things out when you know you can, you can't rock in your rocker in your old age in peace. Don't forget the Letters to the Editor section too.

"Mr. Enge, Have you been in contact anyone who was denied a SAVQUP grant? Do you understand the controversy? Would you like to educate yourself? I am one of those who were denied access to this important program. Attached is my letter asking for reconsideration. If you read it you will have the basis to blog with intellegence about the topic.

The facts are these. After 3 rounds of grant consideration 103 grants have been awarded, all to applicants claiming an Alaska mail box. 32 grants have been denied, all to applicants claiming non-Alaska addresses. These are federal funds. The program was sold as a vessel upgrade / quality improvement program. No where in the application does it state that residency is required. Many of us asked before we went to the trouble of applying. It is illegal use residency as the basis to discriminate against a class of people with federal funds.

The scoring to receive a grant required 70 out of a possible 100 points . The scoring criteria were altered, after the guidelines were published, with a new element (increased profits community) to be worth 35 points. Glenn Haight from ADC instructed that no one with a Non-Alaska address should receive points for this element. Many of us, with other than Alaska addresses received perfect scoring on all other scoring elements. Receiving 1 of a possible 35 points eliminated us. Identical projects were scored differently with Alaska addresses being granted and Non-Alaska addresses being denied. No one to my knowledge has called for the program to be halted.

I have asked that my project be judged on its merits. Given all the bad publicity Alaska has gotten lately (bridges to nowhere and such) I would think the State of Alaska would be more sensitive to how it uses federal funds. You have my permission to post this letter along with my request for reconsideration on your blog providing the contents are not edited. If you care about the fishery then you should be concerned by this attempt by the State of Alaska to divide the fishery. We ALL need to be working together. A level field of play is essential."

Lanny Carpenter

Larry, if they cut you out, at least you'll have done your part to make things work and you can rock in peace. Young bureaucrats wouldn't know why fishermen spend winters in Alaska. And that the ones that keep P.O. boxes in AK and managed their businesses well, may or may not be around after the snow flies very much. How does that differ from you?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

B.S. meter "red-lines" on challenge to Vessel Upgrade Program

The real value of this blogging business is to ratchet up the conversation. When Dennis, the other columnists and myself get some timely information, ya just gotta run with it. This is one of those times. I was going to blog on shellfish in Southeast next, but this bears our attention.

This photo of a Kake longliner is somewhat dated now, but is representative of the need for upgrading in the fleet.

A reader wrote this note to Dennis Zaki, who gave it to me to comment on. It kinda stands on it's own. Here it is:

message: "I read the Alaska Report daily and eagerly await the lastest news. Your exposure of the seedy side of fish politics and policies is great and needs to heard.An interesting story is developing that is probably worth looking into Reguarding the dispersment of grant funds (TFAP) for the Alaska Salmon Vessel Quality Upgrade Program (SAVQUP) administered through AK dept.of economic developement.Apparently a group of disguntled non resident fisherman are challenging their disqualification from recieving any of the federally financed program money. They were encourged to apply but the awards point system makes it mathmaticly impossible to qualify. An injuction may prevent dispursements. good bloggin"

Well, what can I say to those fishermen who want to stop one of the most worth-while things I've seen in a long time. I'm not surprised though, non-resident fish processors have been holding up progress for decades. Earlier today I was thinking that us columnists on AlaskaReport have come out of our lonely research cubicles with the same conclusions. And we are from the trenches of the seafood industry.

One thing you become is a highly calibrated "B.S. meter." But we are making some great acquaintances. Thank you readers that have e-mailed me personally. And what is encouraging is, for the first time, fishermen can air their views and share their research without worrying about not getting printed. Either in a Letter to the Editor, or anonomously via e-mail to one of us.

The above submission just "red lined" my B.S. meter. If these guys can win an injunction on this, they got a winner of an attorney and shouldn't waste any time going for some Permanent Fund dividends.

Selling to Walmart is no pot-o-gold

An owner of a large metals company in Albany, Oregon told me once to just forget about selling anything to Walmart. They squeeze your bottom line so thin it looks like it got run over by a steam roller.

Walmart Super Stores sure won't have a knowledgeable fish monger like this one at Pike Place Market.

Ever wonder why everything in a Walmart is made in China? Because nobody in this country can afford to sell goods to them cheap enough. It's not that they are outsourcing. They are just trying to get the cheapest in the world and pass on the savings. Great for the consumer, bad for the supplier.

Now they come along and say they want to buy wild caught seafood products. Alaska has a lot of them. Nobody is saying they have contracts to buy X amount of Alaska seafood yet. But why all the fuss as in this article? I think the AP reporter just bumped into one fisherman who just happened to be caught off guard by the question about Alaska selling seafood to Walmart.

Selling Alaska seafood to Walmart would be about the worst thing that could ever happen to the Alaska fishing industry, maybe not the Alaska processing industry. An independent marketer sure wouldn't sell to them. A large processor might, since they never had any qualms about just ratcheting down the ex-vessel price before. They would get their processing profit margin no matter who they sold to.

But you are probably talking about two cent a pound humpies if they are headed for Walmart. Good way to thin out the fleet anyway. You sure won't find $30 a pound troll king salmon or Alaska red king crab there like you would in that grocery store I went to in Beverly Hills.

Why all the excitement about selling to those cheap-skates at Walmart anyway? I suspect that there isn't any excitement, except in the ranks of the media. It's a slow news day and nobody has peppered anyone with birdshot in a week or so.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

North Pacific Fisheries Management Council Blues II

"The Governor will also soon name his recommendations for two seats coming open on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council - Arne Fuglvog of Petersburg and Ed Rasmussen of Anchorage. Those seats must be approved by the Secretary of Commerce." That according to Laine Welch.

This is the type of "fisherman" that was so happy to form a linkage with a "processor" in the Gulf of Alaska. Was the linkage already there and the enthusiasm used to draw in the other gear groups?

I saw where the State struck down a motion to allow some cod fishermen to bow out of the "processor linkages" plan that would "attach" them to a processor. Maybe they were afraid of being stuck with the processor in Sand Point that threatened to cut fishermen off of home heating oil deliveries for marketing their own fish. I was involved in that when I was helping fly fresh cod from Sand Point to Korea for a lot more than the local processor was paying.

So it follows that we can probably expect another Councilmember or two that is an employee, a lobbyist, or a stockholder/fisherman of a large processing company. When you have the government and the big processing companies working together, the independent fishing lifestyle is sure to go.

How would you like to be "forced" to fish for a certain processing/marketing company yourself? Some winter king trollers are getting over $7 a pound and thinking they are doing good. Most of them don't know that they could be getting $18 a pound. Well, maybe they do, but you can only get the $18 if you market your own. "Processor linkages" are going to make sure fishermen get rock bottom prices and the "processor" will get the difference.

There's so much money involved it's ridiculous. Of course the game is a ruthless one. If a council member doesn't get his pension in writing from the processor, he'll find him or herself discarded just like the fishermen. If I thought my blog was widely read, I'd say, just watch these councilors scurry for their respective corporate headquarters. LOL

And if this mess that National Marine Fisheries Service oversees isn't bad enough, just now when the Regional Seafood Development Associations in Alaska are starting up, they propose "marketing councils." Do they really think a "council" form of marketing organization is the best way to go? I don't think they care. They write like they were behind the increase in salmon, blue crab and tilapia consumption. They make that inference like they owned the place, and that there wasn't a suspicion of their intentions in the world.

I'll tell you what, NMFS. If groundfish ratz makes every last soul in Alaska happy, go ahead and try upstage the best marketing strategy known to man, the Association concept. But by the looks of it there might be a demonstration outside of your and the Governor's offices, so BACK OFF.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

23% of Chilean "salmon" sold to U.S. is frozen.

Chilean "salmon" exports update: "The United States market also evidenced a 3% drop in salmon export volumes, totalling 108,800 net tonnes (32% of total shipments). 99% of all salmonid shipments to the United States were Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) which was exported 73% fresh, 23% frozen 3% canned and 1% smoked."

The model of a successful fishing port. The service sector is adjacent to the industrial sector. One of Petersburg's best fishermen didn't feel the need to get a car until he was 30.

Working Waterfront: After the voters of Maine resoundingly voted last fall for a Constitutional amendment to preserve the working waterfront through tax advantages, the work has now begun on crafting the legislation that governs all the municipalities and counties in handling these tax matters. The bill they are working on proposes to include the following elements:

1. The bill would enact a section of law, similar to that contained in the laws governing the taxation of farmland, open space and forestland, declaring that it is in the public interest of the state to encourage the preservation of working waterfront.
2. The bill would establish definitions necessary to implement the program, including:
A. Defining "working waterfront" as waterfront land with the facilities, capacity and services needed to support commercial fisheries businesses;
B. Defining "commercial fisheries" as enterprises directly concerned with the commercial harvesting of wild or aquacultured marine organisms; and C. Defining "marine organism" as an animal, plant or other life form that inhabits waters below head of tide.
3. The bill would establish a valuation methodology designed to encourage the continuation of working waterfront by increasing the tax advantages if the property use is restricted by additional easements.
4. The bill would mitigate or minimize the loss of tax revenue experienced by local governments and provide for a recapture penalty provision if the property changes use.
5. The bill would enact a recapture penalty provision that would discourage changing the use of working waterfront to some type of noncommercial fishing support use.
6. The bill would establish a method to assess current use valuation on that portion of a multiple-use property that is used to support commercial fishing.

Without these advantages, vital services move away from the downtown core business district so out-of-town mariners of all stripes don't know where to find things. And locals have to have a good rig to get around with their supplies. With the big grocery store moving up to the muskeg in Petersburg, gone are the days of free delivery of groceries right to your boat. The welding shops and machine shops are scattered for miles now.

But there are fine points the Mainers should be aware of. Some key working waterfront space is used for gear and equipment storage. This space is more valuable to the fishing community in the form of some service or other. And I don't mean a thirst quenching or pizza making service.

Monday, February 13, 2006

"Processor" shares a la Pacific Coast

The City Council of Westport, WA heard from a lobbyist for the "processors" and a bunch of hake trawlers. The purpose of the presentation was to get their endorsement for proposed legislation in Congress that will give up to 50% (?) of the hake resource to shore plants.

This boat in Oregon was in my loan portfolio when I worked at the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank.

And the usual excuses are given, like, we're just too greedy, so a lot of fish get wasted and turned into low value products. Go figure. Anyway, here's the link to the article.

Representative democracy is a messy process, but that's what we have to work with. Personalities are going to collide inevitably. I was watching an Oregon legislative process watchdog group on TV today and heard a lot of testimony on the messiness of the process. One legislator related how he met every day for an hour a day with a collegue on the other side of an issue, just to get to know one another. To see where the other person was coming from. At the start, I'm sure that included Mars and Venus.

It get's messy once in awhile in this blogging business and I attribute it mostly to folks not knowing where each other are coming from. People usually have good reasons for what they do, and if they aren't good, then they are socially acceptable, or at least have worked for them in the past. As far as being for the common good, that could mean any number of people, from the hunting club to world peace.

I think it's pretty obvious by now to anyone that reads this blog on a regular basis that I support the production association approach to handling the seafood catch. Alaska state statute now allows it and the legislature encourages it. I think over time all fishermen will see the point that has made Florida oranges, Ocean Spray cranberries, Land-O-Lakes butter, and Blue Diamond almonds great. There are people that would like this not to come about, and I take a dim view of their efforts to stop this evolutionary process by stealing the fish through the regulatory process before they can get into such a system.

But it's not healthy to hold grudges, that's not how I want to live anyway. So the best thing is for everyone to lay their cards on the table. I think a previous article about the owner of Pacific Seafoods did just that. The owner just wants all the hake. It's that simple, and he figures that everyone else is trying to do the same thing, so why shouldn't he. Then it's up to honest regulators to put the brakes on such notions.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"Private labels" outsell "brands" in Europe

This must be some consolation for those in Juneau who set up 12 Regional Seafood Development Associations instead of just a few. This article shows how well private labels are doing, in Europe anyway. And that was the theory behind a lot of "regionals" in Alaska. "Like marketing private label wine," they said. Can't tell by me. I think the RSDAs will fine tune their business plans after they get off the ground. And keep on fine tuning it as the market shifts.

A picture of a compact DEC "pre-approved" heading and gutting set-up.

But the European study should be encouraging to the RSDAs in Alaska. Whether you call it a "regional brand" or a "private label" is just semantics. But if the grocery stores are getting hip to the cool of private labels, then maybe that's what you need to call a package of fish from Bristol Bay or Cordova or Southeast Alaska.

Speaking of Southeast Alaska, the Regional there now has a new web site. You think it's going to be hard to get all those floating cowboys in Bristol Bay going in the same direction, Southeast has THIRTY TIMES AS MANY GEAR GROUPS. It'll make for a real diverse portfolio of products once they can herd up all those fishermen under the Southeast Rainforest WILD label. And that'll make it easier to market any individual product. It'll be like the Sears Roebuck catalogue of fish products. One stop shopping for an industrial scale buyer in China or a mom and pop store in Kansas.

I heard there might be a dab more money for the RSDAs this Legislative session. Lets not put any Legislator's name in the sidewalk yet. Florida caught on to this concept in the 1930s and their Legislature gave the Association there $32 million to get started. It's just that in Alaska the "growers" have never been able to get together properly. Just in little gear groups to fight each other. While the folks in the marketing game just watched them fight the wrong fight.

There won't be another solution for fishermen other than the RSDAs. This is it. This is the brass ring, and it's just each fishermen's vote away. Even if some fishermen form small groups to process and market their own catch, they won't be able to handle all their own catch. So for the most part, they are going to rely on "strangers" to do their marketing. RSDAs are friends marketing for friends you might say.

There is plenty of processing capacity in Alaska to accomplish this. Some fleets have been kidding themselves thinking they are getting the best possible price from their local packer. When the Kodiak pink salmon fishermen forced the packers up there to bump up the ex-vessel price from 7 cents to 12 cents a pound, the other packers in the State followed suit easily. Why didn't they offer 12 cents to start with?

I remember getting 68 cents for dressed pinks one year trolling. If you could use a little bigger seiner, you could put a Ryan gutting machine on board, and get the same price? The RSDAs just need to get up to critical mass so they can work on some of these things. If fishermen want their communities to get away from only 30% local hire in the plants, they need to support the RSDAs so everyone can get away from just selling seafood commodities. There isn't anything an RSDA couldn't do with the collective borrowing power of it's production at the boat level.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Readers weigh in on United Fishermen of Alaska's leadership

"United" F of A was always wishful thinking to me. I don't think anyone believes fishermen are united at the present. Senator Lisa Murkowski said that the biggest thing the RSDAs will accomplish is to unite fishermen. They aren't united yet by a long shot.

What wholesales for over $5 a pound, was last surveyed at a biomass of 220 million lbs and lives off-shore of Western Alaska? (Hint, this "meat" used to be a lot pinker.)

It was said too, by a distinguished reader, that "when fishermen circle the wagons to fend off an external threat, they shoot through the middle of the wagons and knock off their own men."

But this UFA business touched a raw nerve with readers and I reprint PORTIONS of their e-mails to me. This is the only way to comment on my blogs now. When I published the post on the UFA leadership attacking me personally, with no provocation on my part and an assumed connection to an RSDA, I had to take down the "comments" feature. The whole blog was disabled by Blogger by an anonymous person using "inappropriate content" in a comment. I didn't see the comment. Blogger deleted it. The AlaskaReport editor told me some unethical people know they can use certain words in "comments" to shut down a blog.

Here's what a couple of readers said:

When you become effective, the SOB's take shots at you.The smear by the head of the UFA is a good omen.His vast stock holdings which will appreciate in value as processor shares kick in, making him a particularly vulnerable hypocrite.Articulating his complicity to his electorate will eventually neutralize him.By attacking you publicly he is giving you power.Only the truth hurts.


"John, that's some great blog work!!! UFA leadership was almost the litmus test for corrosive anti-competititive forces harming fishermen, and without open criticism, the few good folks still around won't be able to rise... but with so much processor yeast in the UFA cake, well, Enge's right, ... UFA has to go. A new, true fishermen association (no processors allowed) has to take its place, one that represents all fishermen of all gear types. And there are plenty of global issues to deal with from ATP and the Raising of Ex-Vessel Prices realm to stopping MSA Reauthorization as a cover for Cartelization... etc."

"Nice to see you punch back, John, but we've long learned to just ignore-and-excuse Bobby on a "personal level", even though he's one who always needs a good public spanking on a regular basis just to remind him he's not the one in charge. By the way, how can anyone do so many "jobs" on so many boards, seine and deliver to so many processors, and have time for "leadership" etc.? Doesn't the governor think it's about time to get more than one "leading fisherman" opinion? And how is it that a SE-seine boat wrecker (have insurance payments to Bobby funded more than boat repairs?, as in political expenses?) gets self-avowed expertise on marketing? Does that come from the parochial archipelago deck while miles away from modern shoppers? Oops, we forgot, "Outsiders" aren't allowed to play, and only Insiders are experts."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Profile of "Quota seeking "Processor""

I've been a processor, a fisherman, a bureaucrat, a banker, a marine fabricator and inventor, other things that made me curious, and now a news analyst.

This cannery in Anchorage closed when it's owner, one of the biggest canners in Alaska at the time, didn't see the shift to frozen sockeye coming.

Two points are pertinent to the discussion in this post. One, I'm not paid by anyone to say anything, (although it would be handy in getting my cars fixed) and two, most of my direct industry involvement has been with large "processors," and the rest was fisheries related. I went to college to help me become a processor even.

But I have to confess, I can find no reason to give any more economic advantage to the stock-holders of seafood processing companies. They are already making their processing profits and doing everything they can to control the marketing of seafood that was once a public resource. They are doing fine, and most of the ones that seek a perpetual piece of the resource at the fishermen and public's expense are expanding their processing reach as we speak with excess capital.

There is only one way to understand the issue, and that it to take a close look at one of these companies. CLICK HERE to see an article on a company that has been particularly agressive in it's quest to "get it all."

Monday, February 06, 2006

B.B. Regional Seafood Development Association News

This is just one of the 12 "Regionals" that have been allowed by state statute and one of the three that have been approved to date. One benefit that might not have been in anyone's thinking when someone the divided up the State like this was that the best business plan could be followed by the others.

Bristol Bay gillnet boats are getting pretty high tech these days.

And that there might be some effort by one or more Regional to purposely pave the way for the rest. And that the smaller ones that obviously won't be able to generate enough money to operate could piggy-back on a large one, but they would have to organize.

The Assessment Vote by Bristol Bay fishermen will be on May 1, 2006. There is going to be a permit holders meeting in Anchorage to explain details on February 27, 2006 at the Diamond Center Hotel in Anchorage.

BB-RSDA Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association
Overview ;

Bristol Bay salmon account for roughly 1/3 of the total value of all Alaska salmon. It is the single most valuable salmon fishery in Alaska. Ex-vessel value for Bay sockeye is lower than sockeye harvested in most other Alaska regions - and the gap is growing wider. Despite this, no broad-based organization currently promotes Bristol Bay seafood, works to improve quality or addresses infrastructure needs - all of which will help improve ex-vessel prices.

Now Bristol Bay permit holders can help change this. Recently passed state law authorizes the establishment of Regional Seafood Development Associations (RDSA's). Under this new law, an RSDA may market and promote the region's seafood, seek improvements to the area's infrastructure, work to raise quality. An RSDA may also conduct market research, education and product development.

RSDA's are organized and managed by permit holders. In June 2005, a group of Bristol Bay drift net fishermen filed an application to establish a RSDA for the Bristol Bay region. The state of Alaska approved that application and an official RSDA now exists for the Bay. The next step is to fund the new group.To fund the RSDA, permit holders must vote to approve an assessment on their harvests. Thirty percent of the permit holders in each gear group must vote and a majority of those voting must approve the assessment.

Each area gear group votes separately on self-assessment. Assessment revenues are collected by the State of Alaska and then appropriated to the RSDA. Bristol Bay drift net fishers will be asked to vote by May 1, 2006 to approve a 1% assessment on their harvest - the same amount that had been collected to help support ASMI. Setnet fishers are expected to join the RSDA and conduct a similar election. If approved, an estimated $850,000 - $1,000,000 go to improving values of Bristol Bay seafood, mainly sockeye. That amount will make a difference - it is roughly ASMI's annual promotional budget for all of Alaska's sockeye.

A board elected by permit holders will control the BB-RSDA. That elected board determines policies, priorities and specific programs. Seats on the elected board will reflect the proportionate assessments paid by each gear group. Currently an interim board is volunteering to help with the initial organization of the BB-RSDA.

Fishermen control over the RSDA is further strengthened by an "un-do" provision in Alaska RSDA law for terminating the RSDA assessment. Alaska statutes (Sec 43.76.375) creating the RSDA also include a provision allowing permit holders to end the 1% assessment. A petition signed by 10% of the permit holders triggers a mandatory election to determine whether the assessment should terminate.

Bristol Bay fishermen can expand their participation in the conduct of their fishery. Doing so may result in higher fish values by improving quality and market demand. Approving the assessment is the best way to change the status quo by promoting our products, expanding our markets and raising the value of our sockeye. The BB-RSDA is a solid investment in the future of our fishery.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Marginalization of the United Fishermen of Alaska

Maybe I should have entitled this post, "Seafood Blogger slandered by UFA in attempt to stop criticism of "processor quotas." And not only me, but the President of the Southeast Alaska Regional Seafood Development Association, that is trying so hard to HELP fishermen.

I penned the first Seafood Development Association model for the Alaska seafood industry here in 1991. The State Office Building in Juneau.

The slanderous comments were made to Paul Southland, the President of Southeast Alaska WILD. The UFA President, Bobby Thorstensen, accused Paul of bribing me to to bash the processing sector for trying to grab a chunk of the fish resources for themselves to multiply their processing profits.

This has been my main topic in the last week. I guess the reason Bobby figured Paul was helping me throw a wet blanket on "processor quotas" was that I thread RSDAs in at intervals as the solution to all this madness and my hometown is in Southeast Alaska. Go figure. Bobby actually told a President of an RSDA to violate someone's right to free speech. I know one fisherman who was in UFA and has been writing in Fishermen's News who predicted that the UFA leadership would end up in front of a Grand Jury. I'm really not out for revenge now, just to clear out the temple of the thieves and to set the record straight about my involvement with RSDAs.

I have to laugh a little at the absurdity of all this. Nobody else has come to the conclusion that an RSDA is paying me to shed light on what the processors are trying to do. Why is that? Is it because a Icicle Seafoods heir is trying to protect his stock values? Did his father tell him to? Did whoever is telling the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council Chairman to push processor quotas tell him to try silence me?

I'm not AGAINST the "processors." Someone will always need to keep the doors of the processing plants open. But it's not like the current owners are suffering in any way. In fact they would do better, and the industry would be more stable, by doing business with a professional fishermen's organization that has the R&D and marketing savvy that the processors obviously lack.

The processors will make their processing profits no matter what. It's just that they have been content to let the industry slide, keeping marketing control while sluffing the job off on a state agency with no free market incentive. It's the control they don't want to give up, because things like this opportunity to grab living fish resources come up now and again.

In an effort to help fishermen become the professionals they will need to be to survive, the President of the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank invited an expert to talk at Com. Fish in Anchorage in the late '80s. The speaker was a past CEO of Florida Citrus Mutural, the growers association that made Florida oranges a household name throughout the world. The orange growers had the same problems as salmon fishermen.

When I was appointed to fisheries development work by Gov. Cowper's Chief of Staff, I added the statewide economic development perspective to my five years as a fisheries banker and a previous career fishing and running fish processing operations. The end result of a couple of years at the state studying underlying problems was a paper I called the Fisheries Renewal Campaign, and featured a model of a REAL association. That was in 1991, Bobby, not last week.

I worked for a number of years on my own promoting this idea. Sometimes I got a little for doing it, like when I was embedded in the Community Enterprise Development Corporation offices. But 98 % of my work to see a professional seafood product development and marketing organization in Alaska has been pro bono. And by NOT taking any money from anyone right now, I am able to be completly candid. Not that bloggers don't get paid ever. The going rate for a blogger to create a "buzz" about something is $2,500. When the RSDAs in Alaska are able to pay any wages, I would love to solely be their blogger. Apparently soon wouldn't be soon enough.

Anybody in fisheries politics and management needs to know that AlaskaReport.com and hence this blog get twice as many readers as the Alaska Fishermen's Journal had, and is growing about 7% a week. People want to hear what is really going on in the seafood industry in Alaska. I think it's clear that the UFA is representing only big boat (and maybe only stockholder fishermen) and processor concerns. One of their goals is to foster co-peration with the established processors. What does that mean? That is not a business goal. In business you don't lock yourself in like that. It's a political statement.

Fishermen will need to face up to the fact that the UFA is an outdated business model. First get a good model, THEN make it work. The RSDA concept is what is used all over the country, except Alaska. Why is that? Maybe Bobby Thorstensen, a Seattle boy, can answer that the best, he seems to be intent on keeping Alaska fishermen, and hence their communities, in the stone age.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Who are the processors in "processor quotas"?

Back in 1969, the plant my dad was running, and the company that was paying me so I could pay for college, sold out to Whitney-Fidalgo Seafoods. Whitney was canning 25% of the Alaska pack, so they said. Never-the-less, a Japanese company bought the whole shebang a couple of years later and started the roe herring business, starting with the plant we were running in Yakutat. There was a time when 85% of the Alaska seafood processing capacity was Japanese owned.

The old Kayler-Dahl plant in Petersburg was the original site of Alaska Glacier Seafoods, the famous shrimp packer. Now it's owned by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, whoever they are.

The whole fishing business is as murky as Bear Creek running through Medford these days. You just don't know who you're doing business with half the time or where loyalties lie. Would you sell to a company that used child labor to pick out pin-bones? I'm not saying that happens, but Americans just don't know what foreign companies are really like. The big processors have their men salted all over the fishing political entities, and state employees go straight into good industry jobs with no experience. I won't go into that today though.

What someone needs to do is take a look at who will be the beneficiaries of a proposed processor quota system in the Gulf of Alaska. That's a big place, with lots of fish. Who ya gonna give it to, instead of the fishermen who's always had the job of bringing it in? We coloquially call the capital assets and the owners of a shore-side fish processing plant a "processor." And I guarantee the owners are quite a cast of characters. If we are going to give a huge chunk of U.S. public resources away, we should know who we are giving it away to.

Now maybe some of the bigger "processors" are completely U.S. owned and operated, but their quest for this unholy grail will suck a lot of odd foreign bedfellows along in their back-draft. One of the big bottomfish plants in Kodiak belongs to the Moonies. Some are owned to varying degrees by the Japanese, and some by Canadians.

Just read this article about Canadian investment in Alaska to get a sense for how quietly foreign investment in Alaska is treated, by us and by them. One of the biggest is owned by a Southeast Asian company the last I heard. Another processor was the one who threatened fishermen who were flying their fish out with non-delivery of home heating oil. Still another "major" shrewdly gave stock to employees and fishermen for their loyalty, even though the stock certificates say you can't sell unless the company agrees to it, which they mostly don't. But the hope of selling the stock is the shackle they have on the fishermen who might disagree with the company line. And that line is to control the industry and the resource as far as is possible, for the maximizing of corporate profits. And don't think any of these characters are going to build a new day-care center for their employees or anyone else. The money will fly out of Alaska as fast as electrons can move. Why the Governor doesn't weigh in on this, I'll never know.

Maybe this blog is the first attempt at a chronicling of the Alaska seafood business on a day-to-day basis there ever was, for public consumption that is. Heros and villains alike will grace these pages into posterity. Fisheries students will probably think twice about joining such a crazy fraternity as this business. Wasn't there a movie made about a fraternity out of control? I've got a great John Belushi for you in the next post.

I think the next post better be about solutions too. There is solution that seems to be getting lumped in with all the other craziness for lack of information about it. I think if you get real honest, it's an obvious fix. Time will tell if this little light can grow or if the wood is just too wet. I'm betting that if ISER took a poll, they would find that 90% of the people that work in the fishing industry in Alaska would oppose giving title to fish, as they swim in the ocean, to this odd collection of people who own processing plants. And if fishermen are stockholders, should they get more quota shares? I know! Give Reverend Moon a free sport fishing license.