Saturday, April 21, 2007

Global Food Alaska - 2007

Only once in a blue moon does a workable solution in the seafood industry come along, and this is one of those times. A chance for the aspiring Alaska fish monger to go to a Boston Seafood type show, right in his own back yard.

If only more buyers knew that fishermen are often literally giving away their herring catches.

When you think about it, Alaska has all "the good stuff," so why shouldn't buyers want to come to Alaska, in the summer, to meet ALL the suppliers? And maybe do a little sport fishing? It's the little processors, that are trying hardest, and succeeding, quality-wise, that are not seen outside of Alaska. You want the "real good stuff?" come to Soldotna, AK on June 13th and 14th.

Robin says there are some great opportunities coming to the show for the smaller suppliers: folks that want the best and want the story behind the particular fish they get. These up-scale chains want a supply chain partner, not a commodity "off the shelf." And some TV personality type fishermen will be there. You can probably guess who they are. This show doesn't stop at seafood either, it includes all Alaska food and supply chain stakeholders. Here's what she sent me recently:

Dear John,

It’s been a long winter in Alaska, but spring has finally arrived. Seeds are soon to be sown on the local farms, food processors throughout Alaska are upgrading or installing new equipment, boats are being provisioned and new companies with new products are coming on line. It is a new start to a new Alaska harvest and production season.

While AlaskaCafé often reports on the political and governmental issues associated with the fishing industry, of which I am no expert, I thought spring might be a good time to create a dialogue on an often less-discussed aspect – the marketplace.

“It takes a village” is a well-understood phrase recognizing the many individuals required to establish a community of growth and well-being. It is no different for Alaska’s food industry. I believe it is time we work together to meet the market’s demand for good, healthy, safe food in a way that we have never worked before.

The marketplace is rapidly increasing demands on its harvesters, producers and their supply chain partners.

  • Local. Local food sourcing is the fastest growing segment of the food market. Don’t get me wrong – it is not the largest segment, but growing most rapidly. Why? Support for local food producers (economic development), reduction of food miles (fresher/healthier), reduction of carbon print (energy required to produce the food) and maybe the most important local knowledge growth of the foods we eat (health). Note Bon Appetit Management Group’s announcement slated for April 22nd about their local sourcing policies – just one of many of the international leaders radically changing the way they do business. While there is a lot of independent interest and a number of individual initiatives in Alaska to respond to the local movement, we are unable to grow businesses responsive to this without nutritionists, distributors, brokers, policy makers, manufacturers and buyers at the same table at the same time
  • Sustainability. A huge market driver for food products in general and seafood specifically. We generally talk about sustainability, as it applies to the health of the ocean, but it goes well beyond that in most industry related circles to include environmental impact – as one writer reported last week from “seed to sewer”. It is no small task to respond to this issue and there is no global consensus, but there are task forces meeting, legislation being drafted and new groups being formed around the world to tackle these issues, as they apply to food. We should be at the table or create a table for others to join us to get the best possible understanding so that we may all move forward, where possible, together.
  • Certifications and Regulation Abound Kosher, Healthy Heart, Cargo 2000, Marine Stewardship Council, 5 A Day, Alaska Grown, ISO 9000, Organic, Cool Chain, Serve Safe, FDA, etc. The list of required by regulation and those used for marketing to assure customers of confidence in the product all have associated costs and benefits, but what makes dollars and sense? Is there a table for us to discuss this and create efficiencies to adopt what does make sense?
  • Product/Producer Knowledge Buyers (commercial and end users), both want to know more about where their product comes from, who harvested the product, the temperature it was transported and the way it was processed. Some simply want a human connection (a face and name) to the product purchased. Some want the data to make an informed decision about their supplier and food source and thank goodness we have such a high internet saturation to meet the market through websites, web cams, video, photo’s and other state of the art chain of custody web-based applications, but how does all of this come together in a nice, simple package that is doable and affordable?
  • Nutrition Enough said. I won’t quote growth in costs of health care, rising disease such as diabetes or the latest books, movies or TV shows featuring this topic. I do remember listening to a food writer recently projecting that 100% of our future buying decisions on food will be based upon nutrition. Clearly our food choices will be based upon some of the other issues listed above, but creating nutritious alternatives is big business and Alaska’s production of healthy, natural food products is a major market edge. So where do we get together to bring together our school nutrition programs, health care professionals, food producers and distributors to realize better solutions?

I mention these market-drivers, because we have some major challenges and opportunities, but it will take the entire supply chain “from seed to sewer” to conquer the challenges and to capture the opportunities. For that reason, we are inviting Alaska’s food community – the entire supply chain INCLUDING buyers to participate in Global Food Alaska – 2007 (

This business-to-business, industry event was scheduled to meet the national and international buyers' request to see us during the production season, however, it is not exclusive to national and international buyers. It is not exclusive to large corporations or sole proprietorships. It is not exclusive to harvesters or to processors. It is not exclusive to raw product or value added food manufacturers. It is not exclusive to major international buyers or to independent local bed and breakfasts. It is not exclusive to any political party or age. It is not exclusive to produce, dairy, seafood, plants or base ingredients. It is not exclusive to those shipping product out, nor is it to those shipping food product in or through Alaska. It is inclusive of any company or individual that adds value to Alaska’s food, beverage and bio products supply chain. It is for those who seek to be responsive to these changing markets and connect more closely with those that source their product. It is for those who seek efficiencies in their business operation and collaborate for stronger business. It is for those who want to capture new markets.

Wired Magazine’s current issue’s cover story is called, “Get Naked and Rule the World”. Their cover story refers to the new business philosophy of radical transparency and why smart companies are collaborating.

John, I hope that all stakeholders, and want-to-be stakeholders, will join us on June 13th and 14th, in Alaska. With the new spring season, I’d like to see us reduce our focus inward and focus more of our attention outward and on the marketplace.

Global Food Alaska – 2007 is an opportunity for smart companies to join together for radically new and stronger business. All industry stakeholders are invited and encouraged to participate, after all, you can not effectively work as a supply chain of one –

Robin Richardson
Global Food Collaborative, LLC.
Global Food Alaska – 2007

You can see she's spent a lot of time on this. Two years to date. She used to run the World Trade Center in Anchorage and has even traveled to South America and Russia looking at what works. This is going to be something that just keeps growing. As usual, when the first show is successful, everybody will want to jump on the band-wagon. But for this year, it's first-come, first-served for the suppliers and buyers.

I have a report by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation in Australia that says the seafood sector must add value. No duh. (This really does tie into our topic for the day.) They said adding value can be from more convenient packaging (The big processors have always resisted using convenient tins for salmon), or better communication of it's origins (ASMI only goes to shows far afield to promote Alaska fish and the buyers never get to know of it's real origins.) This report was backed by the Australian government.

Again, we hear that communication of the origins of the fish is important to the consumer. Global Food Alaska - 2007 is the solution to that oversight by government and industry in Alaska. Maybe it hasn't been an oversight, but rather, to put it kindly, just the way it is. What can Alaska do about low fish prices? This is one way, and not a small step for mankind either. Support for this expo now will no doubt separate the men from the boys.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Something is rotten in the Pacific fisheries

Just in is a study that looks at the effects of bottom trawling off the West Coast. In areas that were bottom trawled there were 30% fewer species of fish and six times fewer invertebrates. I haven't been around bottom trawling that much, but I saw a catch come into Brookings last summer and one of those little flatfish would barely have made a good sandwich. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Working out in God's country like this, and the culture of seafaring, masks some real nasty business.

Jeff Barnard said, "Other studies worldwide have documented the damage bottom trawling does to seafloor habitats, but this is the first to look at fish numbers and diversity on muddy seafloors on the West Coast's Continental Shelf, where bottom trawlers do much of their work, the study authors said."

And you won't see this kind of candidness from fisherman in print anywhere else. This seiner had a solid business relationship with his processor for almost 20 years. So much for loyalty in the industry:

I found three very interesting sentences in the last paragraph of your recent posting, Salmon win a round against NMFS. You wrote:

"One notable influence is through the United Fishermen of Alaska. Their mission statement says right on their web-site that they work to foster positive relations with the big processors. So where are they when fishermen lose their market when they advocate for fishermen's rights?"
I believe the answer to your question is that "they" (UFA), were in the processor's offices conspiring with them. Let me explain.

In late March, 2002, I went to Seattle to meet with NorQuest's Terry Gardiner and John Sund to find out if they might reconsider cutting me from their fleet. Since Sund had called and told me they wouldn't be purchasing fish from me a week or so earlier, I had learned that many other fishermen had been cut from other companies and no companies were talking on new boats. I knew I was going to have a particularly hard time finding a market because I had sold exclusively to NorQuest since 1981, 20 years, so I didn't have many contacts in the industry to fall back on.

When I arrived at NorQuest's offices I sat in my car for a few moments composing my thoughts when I saw Bobby Thorstensn come out of the building. When I went in and met with Gardiner and Sund I commented that if they had been talking to Thorstensn about me, that they probably wouldn't be thinking about hiring me back because Thorstenson vehemently disagreed with my ideas about what fishermen should be doing to regain industry respect, and I mentioned the conversation I'd had with him in Craig just several months before. (I mentioned that conversation in my last piece where Thorstenson told me processor quotas would be part of any fleet reduction plan.)

Sund's reply was that, "No, Bobby wasn't talking about you. We were coordinating our positions for the Governor's Salmon Summit." Remember the Salmon Summit? You should read Bobby's address where he claimed fishermen's permits didn't give them the right to fish, just the privilege. Ted Stevens attended and made some veiled comment about "reducing the fleets while preserving the real bread winners." of course they would be deciding who the breadwinners would be. It was at this meeting that the Salmon Task Force was formed.

So who controlled the task force? Well, Ted's boy, Ben was made the chair and NorQuest's Terry Gardiner and Icicle's Don Giles were his right hand men. UFA controlled fishermen's access. A tightly knit group wouldn't you say? And while the main reason (excuse?) given for the desperate state of affairs in the industry was "cheap farmed salmon." We now know that Icicle was and is up to their ears in farmed salmon.

NorQuest didn't relent on their decision not to buy my fish though and towards the end of our conversation Gardiner suggested to me that it would be futile to look for alternate markets like self marketing because they were "going to saturate every opportunity and niche market they could find." Have a nice day?"

Of course Trident owns NorQuest now, but it doesn't appear things have changed any. It's pretty hard to out-junk yard dog the big junk-yard dog with the "T" on it's collar.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

North Pacific Research Board grant program

A growing cadre of fishermen, wondering if there could be a fishery on spiny dogfish, got me poking around for research on the critter. Turns out there is an on-going dogfish research project, funded by these folks, scheduled to wrap up in June.

The ice here in the Homer boat basin wasn't as bad as it was in March when they were trying to have a king salmon derby.

The research to date shows they are the biggest bio-mass of marine animals in Alaska. That they live to 90 years old and don't reach sexual maturity until about 12 years old. Sound familiar? The problem is they are a danged nuisance. They eat everything they can get their hands on. I have this visual of the king crab hatchery project letting a million baby king crab loose around Kodiak, to try re-establish that stock, and the dogfish chomping them all like sandpaper covered pac-men.

I suppose they have thought of that already and have some clever way to avoid that scenario. I'm just not a fan of dogfish since the time they plugged my gillnet off Birch Point by Bellingham, WA. Someone was buying them at the time in Seattle, but I wasn't about to run them all the way to Seattle. They've plugged gillnets in Snow Pass by Wrangell in S.E. Alaska too. And now they are piling into the bays on Kodiak Island. Are they on a northern march?

The source of funding for this spiny dogfish project and 138 others also piqued my interest enough to learn more about it. It makes a good read. They have $9 - $12 million to spend every year on projects. Last year was their biggest year and they spent only $6 + million. Anyone can apply for funding for a project, even someone from Tierra Del Fuego.

I remember seeing an underwater video of a clam dredge running along the bottom in the Bering Sea. It was a flat lifeless-looking muddy bottom, but in it's wake was a smorgasboard of things that hordes of fish and crab were piling on like lumberjacks on pancakes. There's a lot of cool projects to do still and I think John Gitkoff of Juneau was prescient when he built a couple of submarines. That's just like John.

Anyway, the whole research-the-heck-out-of-everything came from the finding that the Dinkum Sands "island," 12 miles off Prudhoe Bay, wasn't really an island. It involved the Supreme Court, Alaska's delegation to Washington and John McCain. It's all on the web-site link above.

There is an effort to computer simulate the interrelationships of all the marine organisms in the Gulf of Alaska. It's due for completion in 2008. Another good reason Governor Sarah Palin requested the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to delay handing out GOA rockfish to their waiting "clients." Maybe by then someone will figure out why it took 40 years for Pacific Ocean perch stocks to rebound after the Japanese fished on them.

I get to guess like heck while I'm not being paid, so my guess is that the Japanese whacked everything, including the bottom itself. Everything is connected down there in a zillion ways. Check it out dog: "Developing Scientific Research that Supports an Ecosystem Approach to Management: Mashed Potatoes or Seafood Bouillabaisse?" by Mike Sigler . 17 April, 11:00am, Traynor Seminar Rm, Bldg. 4, Sand Point Campus, Seattle. American boats would be bottom trawling in the same fashion, just maybe not so bonsai-like. Whoa there silver!

If you're a real research nut, here's a link to the Federal fisheries research facility in Kodiak. They have cool pics of lots of marine mammals and fish. One federal researcher I heard testify at the NPFMC meeting in Portland this winter had such a grip on the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem, they should just have her manage the fisheries. Instead she has to explain her's, and her dozens of colleagues' work, to lobbyists who make the rules.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Salmon win a round against NMFS

This article is about the Federal courts' involvement in the formation of recovery plans for Columbia and Snake River salmon. It is revealing of NMFS attempts to satisfy key constituents. In this case it is the grain shippers of Idaho who want a cheap water route to transport grain to the Port of Portland. On the Klamath River, the big king salmon die-off was the consequence of work to get Sen. Gordon Smith elected.

NMFS has maintained that the four dams, that kill 92% of migrating smolt, are fixtures of the river ecology, like a rapids or a cut-bank.


Where would that mentality stop? Would a mine that taps into some nasty polluting mineral be just shrugged off as a fixture of nature? Do federal agencies need to be required to see the movie "Sahara"?
I hiked along this area deer hunting once and all I saw was some sturgeon paddling around near the surface. Free flowing water makes for mists that helps plants and animals along the river as well. Hunting opportunities should be counted too.

The Snake River historically had a run of 1.5 million spring/summer chinook worth about $400 million retail annually now. When the four dams were put in, the run was down to 60,000. Now it's about 17,000. Even with hatcheries doing all they can, only three sockeye got back to Red Lake in Idaho last year. Who knows how many fish were in that run to name a lake "red."

The Matolius River in Eastern Oregon is a tributary of the Dechutes River. There's a nice big dam smack in the middle of the Dechutes, blocking salmon returning to the Matolius. The Indian name "matolius" means "stinking" and they named the river that because of all the salmon that spawned and died there. Just now they are putting in a outflow tower that will let cold bottom water out instead of the top warm water that raises heck with returning salmon. What year is this? And we sent men to the moon?

I first heard about the Matolius driving by it with college friends from Oregon in the late '60s. We were going skiing at Mt. Batchellor, had some girls with us and could care less about salmon runs. I suppose that's generally the case these days too. I think if I were to come back to Alaska, I'd go join that group on the Kenai that fixes culverts under roads that block migrating salmon. Alaska doesn't have any big dams, but it's got a ton of culverts that are like little dams.

You can bet that road builders are putting traditional culverts in Alaska still. Heck, the Department of Transportation isn't responsible for salmon, right? Neither were the dam builders in the Lower 48 responsible for anything but H2O. So, I'm glad to see salmon coming under the purview of the Courts more. Nothing else has saved them.

A bill in the Alaska Legislature would grease the skids for people to take the fisheries managers to task in court for screwing up fish stocks. As a test, where are Fish and Game employees when salmon are trying to find a culvert, that's like a hole in the sky somewhere from the salmon's point of view. Or, where did the runs of chum salmon go in the side streams up Petersburg creek. Or the runs of the other four species of salmon for that matter. Every stream around Petersburg, Alaska has the same story, so what's up with that?

Alaska is turning into an Ocean Ranching state, whether ASMI admits it or not. If it wasn't for the chum hatcheries in Southeast Alaska last year, the seiners wouldn't have had a season. And Prince William Sound relies on a mammoth pink salmon hatchery. Maybe someone should pose the question to the Hayes Research Group in Anchorage and see what folks that know the streams think of Fish and Game stewardship of Alaska's wild salmon stocks.

Friday, April 06, 2007

More Alaska shipping issues

Here's a shot of the Greek Cruise Ship as it goes down in the Med. So they hit a rock, but I thought the Titanic fixed the "we'll never sink" mentality. Heck, my father had his 385 foot LST blown in half and he anchored the bow half, with only half the remaining crew. This cruise ship had none of these problems. Maybe the problem was that when the Greek captain announced instructions to the Malaysian crew, they couldn't understand him.

The face of salmon transport might have to change to look something like this. This ship came to Alaska as a short-lived scallop operation.

Is it no wonder Governor Palin got so irate when certain Alaska Legislators wanted to gut the Ocean Ranger program for cruise ship monitoring. Although this Alaska drama was playing out before the sinking in the Med., I'm sure Sarah is on higher moral ground now, considering you can't rule out a cruise ship sinking sideways in Gastineau Channel now.

Although the issue involving putting skilled Alaskan mariners on the cruise ships in Alaskan waters had mostly to do with dumping their sewage and waste oil overboard. We really have to hand it to Governor Palin for getting on the radio and announcing that the Ocean Ranger program will provide personnel for cruise ship monitoring at sea and on shore, regardless. Us old Alaskan swabbies like to see that kink of spunk.

And the headlines here read, "Alaska looks south to Prince Rupert port." If you consider that it's the Canadians that are saying that, it really means, "We hope to heck a bunch of Alaska raw product will ship through our new unpaid-for container terminal." Shipping seafood through this facility from S.E. Alaska might actually make sense though. I know the big processors are sending more and more frozen product to China to be value-added. But the last time I looked, the wholesale price of cod in Chicago was $1.08 more than Seattle.

I doubt it would cost $1.08 a pound to ship full containers the four day trip to Chicago. The Alaska Railroad quoted me two cents a pound on a rail car full of frozen cod all the way to New Bedford from Anchorage. That might have been a come-on price of some sort, but you get the idea.

Have you seen those big live transport vessels the salmon farmers have? Now that's the way to get wild caught salmon to market. Just pump them into the live tank out of the seine or holding pound, run 'em to town and fly 'em out live using that Philippine hibernation method. You know how good humpies taste right out of the water, well, that could be experienced by consumers all over the world at that rate. Sure would beat getting ten cents a pound from the processors.

Salmon fishermen are going to have to do it themselves though, nobody else is going to. You know the big processing plants have been working on a business model that phases out fishermen. (You won't find that in the University of Alaska's "Seafood Processing for Dummies" course.) The plan has been working pretty good so far too. If this is a curiosity to you, stay with the program here.

The ultimate low-tech fish shipping solution is to not haul the seine and fish aboard, but to dry 'em up loosely and let them swim for their keep. Talked to a fisherman tonight that did that. He had his haul swim 6 miles to a bay where they could anchor up and process the humpies one at a time. They pressure bled them, filleted them and froze them at 50 below. Great product, and they got three plus dollars a pound at the dock in Seattle; maybe five dollars a fish as opposed to fourty cents at the cannery.

He says rock-fish ship real well in circulating sea water, if they are kept in the dark. They can get them all the way to Puget Sound that way. And you can ship prawns live by air if you inject 100% oxygen into the box and seal the vent and inlet holes tight. The problem is, the Fish and Game Department gurus want to keep their number crunching simple for themselves, so they forbid shipping rock-fish out of state that way. Who's running that railroad anyway, the oilers? Just more wreckage that needs to be cleared from past Administrations.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Political drama hits

Three million viewers have now seen a video on that compares Hillary Clinton to Big Brother in George Orwell's famous novel, "1984." I think the point of the video, and you can see the author on another video, is that the strings of sound-bites that Hillary is famous for smacks of the placebo drug in the book.

"Ratz" work at these federal fisheries management council meetings would be good fodder for YouTube. You need a sound collector from a bird-watching store to get a good sound track though.

Then you get a video posted on Hillary's behalf, presumably, then a video posted by Newt Gingrich. Newt is saying that the "Vote Different" video by ParkRidge47 doesn't contribute anything to the public discourse. Well, Newt is always right, if you ask him that is, but he makes some real good points. And ParkRidge47 didn't have to put Obama's name at the end of the video: that didn't add anything to the message, it just got everyone in a dither.

The point is that 50 million people a day log onto YouTube to check out the latest cool videos, and climbing fast. I've gotten to sending hyperlinks to some to my kids. It works best that way. There's one about a guy in Wisconsin who is building a replica of Stonehenge all by himself. It's all right there to see, he's doing it. So much for aliens coming to Earth and putting those huge stones in a field in England.

Another video is an advertisement for one good blender. The guy puts a couple of golf balls in the blender and reduces them to a pulp. Then he puts 50 marbles in and turns them into glass powder. Another video had a guy pulling dents in cars with a chunk of dry ice. It's from a company that repairs dents by various simple means without body putty and paint. You can learn a lot in a hurry on YouTube. 65,000-new-videos-posted-there-every-day worth of education.

When I tell some people that I Blog, they look at me like a raccoon in the headlights. Man, I have a feeling if you don't get hip to stuff like blogging and YouTube, you'll be the raccoon under the headlights. Business Week magazine predicted that blogging was going to be more influential than the Gutenberg Press. I think that YouTube is going to be much more influential than blogging.

On a side-note to that, Internet researchers/page viewers are looking for candidness and impartiality, unbiased and not-bought-and-paid-for information. When newspapers put their reporters on blogs on their web-site, I'm not sure if that is going to help them. From what I see, the modern web surfer likes to read someone who makes $110 every year and a half from Google ads. As soon as you get a good paying job, you're outta there as a top source of information.

You can search YouTube for any subject. Police thought a video made of their beating Rodney King was just a stroke of real bad luck. Now you can search YouTube for "police brutality" and get 735 videos of police brutality from around the world. Anyone in public office needs to now just visualize whatever he or she is saying ending up on YouTube in the next minute, via someone's cell phone camera.

Someone else thinks the Internet is going to change the face of politics in this country too. Some folks set up this site so you can become an Internet Delegate and "nominate" someone for the Presidential primary coming up next year. Ya gotta read it for yourself. The Washington Post, and others, speak of it like it was the next best thing to peanut butter. Considering the following example, a good bi-partisan team might have a good shot at it.

How do you think Katherine McFee got defeated last year on American Idol, or that Sanjay guy is hanging in there this year? There is a counter-American Idol movement going on in cyberspace. The tenet is that A.I. is America's biggest karaoke contest. If you ask me, Howard Stern is ruining the fun of tens of millions of people who are just looking for a little clean fun out of life. But he wouldn't know anything about that. A lot of folks that post to YouTube wouldn't either, so be careful when you go there.