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 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.