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.


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