Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fish Farming Blues

When Secretary of Commerce Guiterez announced the President's bill on off-shore aquaculture at the Boston Seafood Show the other day, some folks there were still questioning why the bill didn't provide for peer review of research. That's what happened when the North Pacific Council hired a shill researcher to justify the Crab Rationalization they wanted. Guiterez says that the public will be involved all the way. Then ignored as usual.

Bristol Bay gillnet boat going through it's paces off the Homer Spit in Katchemak Bay. Pretty hard to cram fish chilling systems on a 32' legal boat.

I got thinking this morning that it would only take an atlantic salmon/trout escapee about 15 minutes or less to swim the three miles to shore from his off-shore net pen. You know the fish farmers won't want to run their support boats any farther than they have to. And the sea lice infestations from near-shore pens could easily extend into the path of migrating smolt. Well, I'm just being critical here. I'm sure this will all be accounted for, hopefully.

The stakeholders Guiterez mentions sure aren't you or I either. It turns out it's the big seafood companies in Alaska, that are buying and marketing the salmon, halibut, cod and crab up there. They have been salivating over the opportunity to expand their production facilities like this, or in Chile, for years. Yeah, they are the only ones that have any money or credit to do off-shore fish farming. And they aren't likely to let an interloper from San Francisco into their back yard. They'll just return the courtesy the folks that control the S.F. waterfront extended to them.

How ya going to feed such a hungry lot of fish anyway? Some folks wanted to start scooping up the krill off the West Coast. That idea didn't get very far because it's the main course for everything swimming and wild, but who knows if that's the end of it. Maybe they will feed the new fish, parts of wild caught fish. Parts that could be marketed for "wild" harvesters benefit. Well, the processors never did anything for the fishermen's benefit before. It might look like it on the surface to a gillnetter pitching off at a company tender and being offered a cold beer though. Heck, I just heard a story about black cod collar soup lowering a fisherman's blood pressure 40 points after being "on the soup" for three days.

I agree with the gal I talked to at the Boston Seafood Show, who had just spoken with Secretary Guiterez, that you can put on all the dog and pony shows in the public arena you want, but if you don't have peer review written right into the Bill, ya don't got a thing. If they were serious about doing it right they would work it like Wikepedia does. But then the States could do the reality checks if the Feds won't. If they see the problem coming and have the willpower, that is.

In any event, these companies that have been vying to get to the head of the farmed fish permit line, shouldn't be put in charge of marketing fishermen's wild caught fish as board members of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Does that make sense? And don't count on ASMI to do the peer review to slow up board members wanting to farm fish in Alaska.

Speaking of ASMI, I made a correction to my last article "Heartburn in the Alaska Seafood Marketing Boardroom." A source was describing a board member of ASI being a leader of a fish farming group. My ears, or his tongue, issued an "ASMI" signal to my brain, so that's what went into my article. It was fixed in a day, after a kind reader called me on it. This is what another reader said about that article:


"I appreciate the opportunity to know what others are thinking(about Regional Seafood Development Associations) and hope that it will lead to ideas turned into action one of these days.

I am steaming this morning, after just learning that Icicle is now in the business of producing farmed fish. I know that they have been marketing the stuff for years, and that never sat well with me, but now to learn that they are investing profits made from Alaska fish in Chile and going to start a partnership to actually produce the stuff, it makes me sick. I read the anniversary book about Icicle last year and was impressed with it origins, which boil down to fisherman trying to survive and committed to keeping fisherman the focus of their business. Wow, how recent times have changed.

Clearly, they are just looking after their bottom line, and now taking profits from Alaska fish to invest in farming crap in Chile. I realize that farmed fish is probably here to stay, and it fills the bellies of the lesser informed at an attractive price, but how can I as a fisherman stomach selling my fish to such a business. I am in a quandary. Isn't it a conflict of my interests to sell fish I would like to be seen marketed as a wild Alaska product that has so many advantages over the farmed crapola??

I am a guy of principles, and this news just sickens me. Is there an opportunity to get a better price out of Icicle in the future, other than from their need to be competitive with other processor's prices to keep their fleet/source of sockeye salmon? Doesn't producing farmed salmon defeat any hope that Icicle would join in educating consumers about the advantages of wild salmon?

I have always been one to say that the only thing a fisherman can do is move to a market/processor that you believe is doing the right stuff to market fish that can produce a better price. Shouldn't I be true to my own convictions?? I need to move markets..... but where shall I go???

Anyhow... I am venting. At the moment, I am not prepared to switch companies. But it makes it more imminent that I either make the necessary outlay to put RSW on my boat and see if I can get into Lowrance's fleet, or continue to wait to see if some Processor is going to commit to an ice/quality program that is feasible (I put slush bags on my boat last year, as I was excited that Icicle was the first to announce they were going to try Ice on a large scale..... unfortunately, the delivery of the ice from Arctic Star(a floating processor) was problematic, difficult, if not impossible while tenders were being pumped 24/7 during the peak weeks).

Snopac has
announced an ice program for this coming season, I will probably have a conversation with them. Like I said I am just voicing some frustration on this news..... please don't attach my name to any of this as I would be in hard straits to lose Icicle as a market, until I have found an alternative."