Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sourcing and selling fish confidentially.

Reading over Robin Richardson's Global Food Collaborative web site this morning got me thinking about how she has leap-frogged ASMI's services in a key area. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is a state agency with a board of directors dominated by representatives of the largest seafood processing companies. Is this a private marketing firm for the big players? That's hard to say, but consider that information the agency compiles is immediately available to the Board - the big processing company reps.

So along comes a small mom and pop processor buying fish in an region that a 'major' thinks is his bailiwick. The mom and pop calls ASMI to see if any buyers are requesting small lots of their specialty product. The information is recorded and Sunshine Chum Poppers, Inc. is now fully on the radar of the big fish houses in the area. Standard practice in the Alaska seafood industry is for the big guys to immediately engage their 'dirty tricks department' to 'handle' the competition.

No my friend, the seafood industry is not a gentleman's sport. My father was in it all his life as a major player and my mother called him a dictator, but his boss said he just didn't have the bare knuckles instincts of a street fighter that was really needed. Take for example when I was sending round P. cod to Korea. We were getting it from Sand Point, flown by the fishermen to us in Anchorage, where we would repack them and ship them to Korea. We were paying the guys around three times what Trident Seafoods was paying at their plant in Sand Point. So Trident tells the fishermen that if they want home heating oil, they better reconsider who they are selling their fish to.

Not that they needed ASMI to know what was going on, after all they've been keeping their eyes and ears open for a hundred years. The point is, a state agency is just not the place to route confidential sales information through. Market information, whether the buyer's or the seller's, is the most confidential information a company has, especially small companies who might only have a couple of contacts. And I've heard of big company reps at an airport writing down the addresses on pallets of air freight of a small competitor.

Enter Global Food Collaborative and Robin's goal of facilitating supply chain connections in the food and beverage industries in Alaska. This is what she does:
  • More search capability.
  • Enhanced new product request forms.
  • Easier navigation.
  • Higher quality information, specific to product categories.
  • Private/confidential collaboration between/among members.
That last one is a biggie and would make it worth it to ditch ASMI and go with Robin. Think about it. It's like getting free software that is corrupted with a virus. You'll end up with more grief than you ever imagined, if your company even survives. The failure rate among small seafood companies in Alaska is at least 85%. Risk management is what it's called.

I don't think you have to be a bare knuckle brawler like the legends of the industry. And not even the old, 'get even, not get mad.' I think when one door isn't working, look for a new door. It's just 'the fishing game' after all. Don't take it so seriously, after all most of us are not in the plutocracy, as Alan Greenspan says, and never will be. There are 'two Americas' and I hope that if the University of Alaska ever figures out how to be honest with students in any future fisheries curriculum, they will include this little fact.

Getting back to who to use to help in fish trading, are you going to use a bureaucracy mostly interested in job retention - their own? One that uses ex-military to direct it's mission to close ranks and protect it's turf? Little do the mom and pop processors know that their counterparts in ASMI pay huge amounts of money to a lobbyist to lay a mine-field of adverse regulations in Juneau to keep the fishermen and little processors down on the farm. Face it, the ASMI door is closed for innovators, and that is what is going on at the moment, by necessity. You can't competed head on with the majors in their product divisions.

Give Robin a call. I also just found a notation I'd written some time in the last year that goes, 'Identify new marketing strategies and new ways to doing small scale fisheries in general. U. Cal - Berkeley.' It's pretty clear that this is the domain of free enterprise, not bureaucracy. And it is also clear that the University of Alaska and ASMI don't have the personnel or the culture of innovation that is required to help the fisheries folk in the 'other America,' the America of 95% of us that can't afford to support candidates for political office or kick in tens of thousands of dollars each for lobbying.