Thursday, November 23, 2006

Russian fishermen need RSDAs too

"Through a translator, the fishermen described problems with poachers, who take salmon roe and discard the rest of the fish, and with regulations that allot a certain amount of fish, and a particular location, to fishermen.

Purse seiner cruising by the mouth of a salmon stream with power skiff in the water behind. (Not my picture)

They wondered why Sweet and Gudmundson cut off and discarded the heads, and whether they saved the milt from the male fish. Apparently milt is sold in frozen blocks in Russia."

So, why are Russian fishermen saying that some of our cherished management tools are "problems" for them? I think the incoming administration in Alaska will finally get to the bottom of these kinds of things. There was an operation in a fish plant in Juneau that processed salmon eggs that had been "stripped" from chum salmon in Sitka. "Legal poaching" I suppose, and not that long ago. A lot of other roe fisheries take place in Alaska, and I'm not sure if fishermen get what they should for the flesh of the fish.

The U.S. fishing and processing family in the above linked article said: “We wanted to retain the value of the fish, maintain high quality, stabilize our means … and we wanted our work to be meaningful, so it’s not just a job.” I interviewed this family last spring in the course of my blogging. They were getting $4.25 a pound for their sockeye as opposed to about 55 cents a pound fishermen get from the processors in Bristol Bay. They told me they wouldn't sell their fish to the local plant if their life depended on it. It's a lot more work, of course, and a lot more skills are required.

This family fishes out of Petersburg, AK in the summer and processes in two standard 40 foot shipping containers; one for processing and one for freezing and storage. When they get the cold one full, they ship it to Bellingham Cold Storage and put another one in it's place. Then they spend the winter "down south" selling their "pack." That's where the Russians caught up with them.

It's funny that these Russians had to go through an environmental organization to get the straight scoop on "best practices" in the U.S. salmon fishing industry. Is what would be really funny is if these Russians caught on to the Regional Seafood Development Association idea and ran with it and blazed the trail for the fledgling Alaskan RSDAs. It might be a problem for Alaska's RSDAs when top flight wild salmon products start showing up on the U.S. market from Russia. This might turn into a race for the wild salmon market, but that wouldn't be all that bad. It might take a spark like this for Alaskan salmon fishermen to exert themselves.

Here's something else the Russians might think about. Creating a few off-limits areas. I haven't studied all the ins and outs of this idea, but it's cropping up all over the place: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Glacier Bay National Park, U.S. East and West Coasts, the coral forests in the Aleutian Chain. The idea is to have more areas reserved to provide seed-stock for the open areas, and maintain biodiversity that more research is showing is so necessary for commercial stocks. And for sportsmen fishing nearby, it means some real lunkers.

I think the real story is about fishermen getting involved and not just bumping into a "code group" buddy on the street and asking who to vote for or what plant is paying the most. Working through an RSDA gives the fisherman the most say, without having to have all the skills needed to control his destiny. Folks in Alaska are finding out that the "association concept" is too democratic to take over as a personal fiefdom, like so many other fishermen's groups have been. It's been tried already and they just bounced off like it's got bouy-bags all around it.

You get RSDAs without ulterior motives or you don't get one at all, because they are the only fishing industry trade associations monitored by state government. One thing all fishermen have on board, whether American or Russian, is a good "integrity meter." This is like most fishing industry stories, there's a story, inside the story, inside the story, and it's not for the faint hearted to sort them out.