Monday, April 10, 2006

A reader's lament over lost opportunities in the fisheries

"Good old Days that I Remember"
"All the boat harbours were stacked full of different types of boats, from tenders, newly designed crab boats, seiners, gillneters, longliners, southern shrimpers, dungeness only, shrimp pot guys, shrimp beam trawlers, a hand full of scallopers, and a few new boats trying to make a go of bottomfish.

Roe herring processing like this used to be done in the Alaska plants, but that work went overseas a long time ago.

From Kechikan to Dutch, people would talk about new ideas on gear and boats, and "what are you going to fish for this winter?" "Hey, would you bring some gear of mine out to Sand Point? Sure, can you store some of my pots over in King Cove?""

"I thought all the small towns up and down the Alaska coast were great places to stop when we had time. People were full of hope for the future, I cannot remember one person saying "I am real sorry, I have all these companies to sell to." Akutan had half a dozen floaters in the bay, Dutch had a bunch of guys trying to line up more boats; same with Kodaik. Homer had 3 big outfits, plus smaller companies along Cook Inlet's road system."

"Seldovia was a great place to get out of nasty weather and pick up bait, get a drink. Now, as these giant companies buy up the little guys, what happens to Sand Point? Seldovia? Chignik? Homer? This reduces Alaska greatly, as the normal give and take around these small towns gets reduced to the goals of the big company. [Trident]"

"What happens to the young people? They can't buy a boat because Trident owns the quota. They can't even go and buy some fish off the boat, it's against the law. Trident wouldn't sell any anyway. They can't go to the city council because the leaders are already hand picked by Trident. I guess they could go stand in the processing plant for less than minimum wage, but with Trident's workforce being the highest non-Alaskan workforce in Alaska, at 85% nonresident, I guess this might be less than exciting."

"The non-Alaskan workforce obviously impacts a small town greatly, and when the workers realize that the benefits are not what they had expected, it's far too expensive for them to leave. Not a good situation for anyone. Look at Akutan now, it has just one plant (Trident). King Cove looks like a ghost town. Trident shut down the Sand Point plant as well as Chignik. Homer now has a little trucking operation. Seldovia's plant is gone. Seward has just one plant. Kodiak is all that is left for any of the smaller independents, with only a couple of plants left."

"How could any Alaskan be proud of what's happened to us. What happened to the great diversity, the opportunities both in fisheries and towns. By allowing this enormous consolidation and control of the fisheries by a few corporations, Alaskans have lost the opportunity for the next generation of Alaskans to meaningfully participate in the fishing industry. I think that is a great loss."

It IS a great loss, my friend, and I remember those days too. It was right after limited entry in the salmon fisheries and the company owned fleets of gillnetters and seiners had to be sold to individual fishermen. Two of the biggest fleet owners, New England Fish Co. and Whitney-Fidalgo Seafoods, couldn't cope with the need to operate efficiently with their new-found lack of control over the skippers. They quickly went bust.

The new breed of processors are a lot smarter and are jerking the stars into alignment to control the fishermen once again for the last pound of flesh they can get from the resource . Many are shrewd Japanese seafood businessmen. Man, I thought Israelis were shrewd, these guys have been at this for a LONG time. A Japanese missionary to the U.S. told me that Haleluliah in Japanese is pronounced "howtadoya."

I know that some of Trident's staff worship their leader for seeking control of the fisheries on behalf of a U.S. company instead of Japanese companies. But do they close their eyes to his efforts to squash other U.S. businessmen, like those poor guys in Sand Point who just wanted to make a few extra dollars to buy a vacation off the rock by flying some cod out. That ought ta tell ya what a Trident/Ocean Beauty merger might mean.

Here's a little more information on the ownership structure of Bering Sea processors: "Nippon Suisan (USA) was established in 1974 as the holding and supervising company for all Nissui group companies in North America. That portfolio currently consists of Unisea, Inc. and Alaska Ocean, who harvest and processAlaska seafood resources; and Gorton's, King & Prince, and Fishking, who manufacture and distribute frozen fish and shrimp products in the retail and foodservice seafood channels." Can't get any more vertically integrated than that: from seabed to buffet line. They own the fish even as it is growing up in the Bering Sea. So if you're jigging out there you'll have to throw back most of 'em, cuz most have a rising sun on the adipose fin.