Saturday, July 14, 2007

Monday Fisheries Headlines 7/16

Alaska fisheries academia catches a case of value added fever about once every 25 years or so. The last time the state was flush with oil revenues from a new oil pipeline, so they built the Fishery Industrial Technology Center in Kodiak.

The one pound steel can of salmon is now a tapered two piece can. Still steel and the same smell when you open the can. How's that for progress?

Nice gesture, but the meat and potatoes work was being(or not being) done in the back rooms of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. A cozy club of big processors who were comfortable with the existing products, chief among them was and still is, the one pound steel can of salmon. Never mind that it takes a jack-hammer to open one and then the smell will knock you over.

When I started wearing suits to work in the fishing business, I looked into, for instance, why Alaskans weren't allowed to use a Norwegian seaming machine that would do 26 types of aluminum rip-top cans. After being told to "keep your nose out of it, sonny" by the Executive Director of the National Canners Institute in Seattle, Roger DeCamp, I smelled a rat big-time. I finally realized that there was no technological barrier to getting canned salmon to consumers in a form they wanted, it was a political barrier, that exists to this day.

Now, there is a competition to win the Directorship of FITC, so value-adding verbage is cropping up. Give the new Director a month on the job and he'll discover that the Risk Management guy at U. of A. in Fairbanks will tell him that certifying any new canning processes is too risky for state government. While all other canning sectors in the world are making consumer friendly products!

Also keep an eye on the new retort compatible plastics, some of which are compatible with microwave retorting. There is an effort to develop a commercial microwave oven and pouches as we speak. Look for the big packers to get the inside track on that though. Or call the FITC in Kodiak to get the latest. Don't wait to hear about it in the press. There really is a lot a "value-added Director" could do for the seafood industry in Alaska if he had the support of the Governor, which I think he might for once.

Here's an article about restraint in commercial fishing in the Arctic. Trouble is, I got sick within the first minute reading about how the Seattle and Tokyo trawlers and crab fishermen are so sustainably fishing up there in Alaskan waters. This is one of those authors whose job it is to defend the big companies who have managed to corral 95% of the profits from marketing the resource and who don't want their little scam illuminated. Ask this guy about the hundreds of thousands of king salmon and maybe millions of other salmon that the trawlers in his "Alliance" throw over dead every year.

And here's an article on a nasty predator of good eating seafood that just creates more hand wringing than action. When you read this article on the hog-nose ray back East, just insert Alaska spiny dog-fish for ray. It's the same issue as in Alaska, where the dog-fish shark is proliferating and eating everything down there: salmon, king crab, you name it. And the Alaska Department of Fish and Game wrings it's hands over the slow reproductive rate of the critter, while it multiplies like crazy. Is there a correlation to the sacred cows of India?

You'll hear from these fisheries managers, "we just don't know how many of them there are." A conversation I had with fisherfolk in North Carolina recently jumps to mind. The National Marine Fisheries Service scientists said the weak-fish population was in serious decline. The fishermen said there were more than ever. Then a year or so later NMFS said, OK, there's lots of weak-fish. Then the fishermen saw a decline, and Nymfs says no, there are lots, our data says so. Year or two old data, that is. Finally Nymfs says OK, the weak-fish are down. And on and on it goes to this day.

Conclusion? The National Marine Fisheries Service has been watching over fish stocks in the U.S. for 200 years and most commercial stocks are a shadow of their former glory. Politics and fish just don't mix. When you have someone spouting "the health of the coastal communities" just figure on boats going out of business. It's like saying "I'm for apple pie and motherhood." Great, they just use it to cushion the fallout from higher sales taxes and higher health insurance costs.

I shouldn't be so cynical today. I read in the local paper that a third dam on the Rogue River, that has no useful purpose, is being discussed for removal soon. The fourth one, the Lost Creek Dam, is way back in the hills, is big, and is useful as all get-out, whatever that means. So my son and I hiked to the top of Table Rock Mountain today to survey the countryside and ponder a free flowing Rogue once again. A great notion; one where fingerling salmon and steelhead would flush straight to the ocean. They should look at the studies being done for the Kenai River in Alaska on how beneficial sport fishing is to the regional economy. I suspect there would be barrels of dynamite under all three dams within a week of getting that report.

The breakdown of support on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council for crew and skipper shares of king crab quotas: The bottom line is that at the moment the umbrella drink sippers are winning out over the guys that risk their lives to bring you Alaska king and snow crab. The quota owners vs the guys that get wet, cold and tired. The big boys cut out the real fishermen in the Council process because they could, thanks to Uncle Ted. But the game isn't over until the crewmen sing, if they can.