Thursday, March 13, 2014

A CFA or an RSDA for Community Benefit from the Fisheries

In the Magnuson - Stevens Act that was enacted to provide a framework to manage the fisheries in the 200 miles of fish rich waters around U.S. shores, there is an intent to protect the fishing communities themselves. Not just the fishermen, but the downtown businesses, the tax coffers that fund roads, schools, etc, and the airlines and everything else that makes a community viable. Later, 'community fishing entities' wording was inserted as an idea to help in this process. This is a look at a current proposal for a 'community fishing entity' which is untried and untested and then a look at an existing State of Alaska program that would do the same thing.

Community leaders throughout the coastal communities in Alaska, from Nome to Ketchikan, have bemoaned the fact that fishing doesn't contribute nearly what it once did to the vitality of their communities. The old saying comes to mind, "The curse causeless does not come." There has been a death to the communities by a thousand cuts, and it's not the fault of school teachers or hardware store cherks I can guarantee. Most malaise has come at the hands of the politics of the Federal fisheries management system.

Flying in the face of the commonly hyped sound bite, "the fisheries of the North Pacific are the best managed in the world," many high valued stocks are at record low abundances. Some are entirely gone, or at non-fishable levels, and large swaths of the ecosystem, small feed fish and bottom ecology, are being clear-cut. In short, the jury is still out on North Pacific fisheries management. 'The Management Act' is undergoing review as we speak and some folks are lining up to effect changes. But are these changes for the better? We don't think that the fish processors' attempt to get Congress to give them 'rights' to the swimming fish will help. Maybe it will help employ more low wage third-world fishermen on company boats, but that doesn't help Alaska communities.

There is also an attempt to form a community fishing association in Kodiak now, with the stated goal of getting more fish to family fishermen to get more dollars circulating in the community. One North Pacific Council member has been employed (no conflict here, move along) to steer benefit toward the little villages around Kodiak Island. (Not a bad idea, since they were there first) So, for Kodiak folks to want to do the same is logical. But are these efforts steeped in sound business management principles or just knee-jerk reactions to the big Seattle trawl fleet and Seattle processors freezing them out?

More particularly, a couple of folks in Kodiak want to form a thing they call a Community Fishing Association to receive quota shares of fish stocks, before they are all given away to someone else, to distribute to local family fishermen. To give younger fishermen a better chance of working into their own operations. That's about the end of the feel-goodness of it. Like coveting a honey-comb made by wild African honey bees, it could get painful before any rewards are realized, if any.

I was going to revamp my prior post on this subject, but I think I should just take a fresh approach, for another coffee break. And I don't like to re-read my stuff either. Being that the devil is in the details, most people don't like to delve into the details at all. It's flat uncomfortable. But lots of folks are paid good tax dollars to do just that, so here goes.

First of all, there are no Community Fishing Associations in the United States to copy the business plan from. This partly explains why the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, who has come up with this name, and a direction to send maybe millions of dollars worth of quota shares, has no business plan. They do, however, mention that they would need a 5% to 10% commission on the value of the landings to 'manage' the program. And that would be a program that they would make up as they go along and fumble to decide who gets what quota afterward, except their commission, of course. Sounds more like a dictatorship to me. And believe me, you're not talking about rocket scientists that are proposing this. I won't go into the gory details on that. But let me try to shorten the pain of reading all this by using a bullet format on a CSA and then on a Regional Seafood Development Association, a program that is already in law and ready for any area of Alaska to adopt to do the same thing.

  • 'Community' is not a valid term for this, as the proponents have been secretive about it. They didn't get the advice of the community or even experts on the subject. Reminds me of the 'Good Neighbors Farmers' group here in Southern Oregon who represents a Swiss bio-chemical and seed company that want to grow GMO crops. They could then sue the organic farmers whose crops get cross-pollinated, for patent infringement. Over 150 farmers have been sued already and the farmers never win. 
  • AMCC doesn't represent any fishermen, much less 'the community.' Would 'community' in their eyes be the few boats that they give quota to and delivered to a floater so they could stay out longer? Would it be the waterfront of Kodiak, or all the communities on Kodiak Island? Or would it mean the communities around their region of the Gulf of Alaska, or wherever it is that the guy lives that offers the highest lease fees for the quota they get who fished in Kodiak area waters?.
  • AMCC does not fish, so the term 'Fisheries' does not apply either. They would sit in an office and just reap an inordinately large cut of other people's earnings for doing no further work.
  • The term 'Association' has no real meaning at this point because there is no organization filed with the State, with it's Articles of Incorporation and By-laws, whether for-profit or non-profit, with this name. There isn't any transparency. This could be one of the biggest scams you ever heard of.
  • The proponents at AMCC recieved a grant to do this. ENGOs have been supporting consolidation of fishing privileges and hence poorer communities. The communities were built from not having a few at the top.
  • AMCC does not have a track record of helping the family fishermen as they imply with this program. To be plain, it seems like a program to get them good salaries. Kodiak would probably be better served if they pushed for historic and equitable crew shares. How is a young fisherman going to come up with maybe three million dollars for a boat and gear to go get a little piece of trawl quota? Seems like just joining the club. What about more eco-friendly gear types that would let a young fisherman get out fishing affordably; there are a number of them.
  • AMCC has not compared their proposal to other things that have been done to improve community fisheries development, such as RSDAs, or how Iceland put hundreds(?) of small fishermen back to work after the World Health Organization said catch shares violates human rights. Nor have they weighed in on the shore-based processors' attempt to gain fishing privileges. Seems like a free-for-all of grabbing for quota going on and real short on cooperation. Come to think of it, I haven't heard a peep out of any actual fishermen or 'potential family fishermen.' Well, maybe I'm speaking for my three boys at-arms who have fished commercially in Alaska and might want to do it again, continuing the hundreds of years of family tradition.
  • 'Fishermen' is a broad term; like fish, there are all kinds. We are reminded that the Federal fisheries 'Council System' was supposed to be 'members of the industry' for their expertise. Now it's over-dominated by folks who never go out on boats: Federal agency folk, reps from Washington and Oregon, and folks representing not themselves, but special interest groups. The AMCC folks may be former fisherfolk, but they are strictly a Kodiak organization because the folks who run it live there and don't weigh in on state-wide issues. They also live on grant funds. Kodiak politicians and the State Legislature should be concerned that AMCC is representing an ENGO and not the community of Kodiak.
  • AMCC says they have Federal attorneys advising them. Where are these opinions in writing, since we taxpayers paid for them? If this was legit, these opinions would be included in the package with the business plan and risk analysis, which of course don't exist either.
  • This organization would not have any sort of critical mass of political power, to be honest. The fishermen and the program would have a tenuous existence at best. Sure, they could get some quota later even, like the CDQ groups did in the Bering Sea, but they aren't likely to get such a percentage of the overall quota. AMCC is asking for crumbs basically. They could all possibly get together and deliver their catches to their own plant, but these are small family fishermen, remember, and not ones to be able to finance a processing operation, aka, market power.
  • This plan might not pass IRS muster as it would probably be a non-profit corporation in ownership of a public marine resource. This is not allowed, nor has it ever been approved by fishermen.
I won't beat a dead horse to death here, so let me address the question that has been posed, "Well, what else can we do?" That's the same question that was posed to me by the Mayor of Cordova after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I was working in the State Dept. of Commerce... at the time and had just finished a draft of a Small Processors Association white paper to help fishermen vertically integrate. I got the idea from a former Executive Director of Florida Citrus Mutual who had come to Alaska on our bank's behest to introduce their business model. It took fifteen years, but it is in State law now, there are liaison people in Juneau that can tell you all about it, and several regions of Alaska have already formed one for their area. Their communities are thriving and the fleets are robust. One new venture is projected to spend around $25 million dollars in the next year or two in one of the communities (Naknek). So, let me do a bullet for RSDAs too so I don't ramble on.
  • A Regional Seafood Development Association can bring stability to a region's communities, attracting investment, as stated above.
  • There is a critical mass of fishermen in the association to give a single voice for the impact that has to the benefit to the communities in which the fishermen live in the region. Communities in a region have existing good working relationships through Borough governments and other State and regional economic development organizations.
  • The proponents of the RSDA can include whatever gear groups in the region they want to include. Keeping in mind the critical mass concept; the more the better. I just don't know about inviting the lions to sit with the lambs to start with. In Kodiak's case, that would be the trawlers. AMCC has proposed there be one trawler on their Board.
  • The State requires a business proposal, not your Harvard Business school type, but some write-up on what this is all about and how it's going to be run. They want to see a fishermen-led organization; we still are a democracy after all.
  • A small percentage of the settlement checks are sent to the State by the buyers and then the State sends these back to the Region in a lump sum. Financing of the organization is secure this way. The State has given out hefty grants to get these started.
  • The State knows it's as hard to organize fishermen as it is to herd chickens, so they only require 30% of the permit holders to vote and then a 51% majority of these will kick things off. And if it flops for lack of interest, then it just flops. But big money interests have and will try to short-circuit such an effort. In Florida there was a fight in the legislature over the retraction of the start-up money for the orange growers association. It was the orange growers who, after they got organized, invented ways to market fresh oranges and fresh orange juice all over the world and not just in Florida, or put in a can and retorted. Let me put that a different way, the processors did none of the marketing breakthroughs the primary producers needed. Same thing happened with the almond growers, they got together and formed the very successful Blue Diamond brand, spurred by processing breakthroughs they made themselves.
  • An RSDA takes in fishermen who are trying to get their feet under them and also the ones who are successful and want to vertically integrate their businesses. They all end up helping each other. We've all heard the reports on how stress is tearing apart the communities along the coast of Alaska due to privatization, well this is one way to reduce that stress of uncertainty and stagnation..
  • Unlike the mythical CSAs, which currently and proposed, are single gear type and very limited in scope, RSDAs can be all-encompassing of fishermen in a region. The State of Alaska has set up the regions, check it out. The promise is that fishermen in a region have a forum to work out their differences, fisherman to fisherman, and not lobbyist to lobbyist, moderated by Washington D.C. or Juneau. A unified voice in these other forums from a region packs a lot of punch. That is missing now. In Bristol Bay, the RSDA finally came out against the Pebble Mine and now the EPA is on-board with the region in it's efforts to save the fishery.
  • With a larger membership base, the RSDA model is known for innovation in all aspects of the industry. Alaska processors have been in charge of product development and marketing for the whole history of the fishing industry in Alaska for the most part, but fishermen have more incentive to improve on this for their sake and that of their communities. Processors make the same profit margin, low, so as to limit competing processors, hence there is no incentive to re-tool the product or the marketing.
  • RSDAs are a logical entity to accept community quota shares of fisheries, whether allocated by the NPFMC or financed by someone like the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank or the Division of Investments. RSDAs are guaranteed to always have democratically appointed someone capable of keeping the lights on, and writing business plans that ensure success. (Processors' whole thing is about getting their hands on as much product as possible.)
  • There is no narrow focus on what an RSDA can do for a Region. They can do whatever they can think of to do to help themselves: the existing ones started out by increasing ice capacity with floating ice barges to increase the quality of the fish and hence the price. In Bristol Bay, they estimate the extra ice added $3 million to the back pockets of fishermen in one year. With a wide membership base of all the fishermen in multiple gear groups, they could effectively lead the charge on pioneering new fisheries, protecting and enhancing old ones, making breakthroughs in gear research, interfacing with scientists better, and the list goes on and on. These things only increase employment opportunities and only step in when nobody else is doing it. With the failure of the MSA to protect communities, there is a real buzz to get fishing permits and quota into the hands of a true community entity. This is a big and highly visible issue in Alaska now after decades of privatization of the fish resources, consolidating rights into fewer and fewer hands; mostly out-of-state hands. If the processors are successful in their bid for fishing 'rights' after years of trying, the problem is compounded for communities.
  • With a good Board of Directors of boots-on-deck boat owners in an area, they can select someone to be the day-to-day point man. He doesn't do anything the fishermen don't want done. It's fairly straightforward though as fishermen are looking to enhance their returns on investment and maybe accident insurance. Some vessel insurance pools have come out of things like this.
  • Decisions on what to do to improve things are made in due process, not up front without transparency and collaboration. 
The RSDA model goes back to the 1930s in the U.S. The 'non-CFA' concept hasn't ever been tried and there are no particulars on it. Cape Cod and Morro Bay are places that are used as examples of a CFA, but they are totally different than the Kodiak proposal and very different from each other. And they are supported like charities by Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations for very narrow purposes.

I brook no ill will towards the folks at AMCC; ill will is like expecting poison you take to affect the other person. While I'm doing analogies, another quota program seems like a repeat of the 'big privatization mistake.' And everyone knows the definition of insanity, about repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The difference between an RSDA and a 'CFA' is the difference between a having a tank and hand-to-hand combat.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Council Business or Monkey Business

Two things are on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council's mind these days, splitting up the loot in the Gulf of Alaska and the dumping of multitudes of species that the trawlers and longliners catch secondary to their target species. I first have to scratch my head at the underlying disconnect between reality and the original intent of the Magnuson-Stevens Marine Fisheries Management and Conservation Act of 1976 of using professional fishermen to man the management council for their expertise.

Full-time, boots-on-deck fishermen just don't have the time for the homework and travel. Fishermen's organizations get their lobbyists to represent them on the Council if they are a big enough organization. The little fishermen's organizations rarely are represented. And lots of the business of the council is geared to tell which fishermen can go fishing and which can't. That's part of the current Council agenda, and always will be.

The Gulf of Alaska is a massive area and some fish stocks, like the Pacific ocean perch, is still up for grabs. Now that's a real simplistic way of explaining a massively complicated situation that few people understand. And those Councilors are being paid by someone, of course. But in the current give-away, there seems to be some room to give a few crumbs to the little guys in that iconic fishing port, Kodiak. Maybe it could be part of the grand bargain. And the Alaska Marine Conservation Council is lining up the steer things Kodiak's way. Or maybe partly their way, if they get to manage the program.

The thing that worries me about AMCC is that they have stood by all these years while the family fishermen were getting shut out. They sure haven't been getting their funding from family fishermen. I was just watching a Matt Damon movie about fracking and how the gas company used both a front man and a fake environmental organization to influence a town. Got me a little worried about AMCC. After all, when a friend penned the Pacific cod regulations for State waters in the Gulf and they were mostly adopted, the AMCC took credit for it.

Drop back in time to 1991 when I penned the outline for the current Regional Seafood Development Association program while in the employ of the then State Department of Commerce. and Economic Development. I watched it get strong-armed, co-opted, stalled, and others taking credit for it. Governor Murkowski made it a state program when it looked like pink salmon fishermen were only going to get a little more than a thank-you for their fish. The model is well represented in the U.S. and across the globe. Several regions of Alaska have organized RSDAs. No need to reinvent the wheel.

But now AMCC is seemingly reinventing the wheel with their proposed Community Fishing Association idea. The specifics are fuzzy, well, because it's not a well tested model and one hasn't been done in Alaska. There is one in Cape Cod, but that is being supported by the heirs of Shell Oil and they don't have a multitude of gear groups. The Council has held workshops on it now. Giving a CFA to Kodiak, maybe run by AMCC, would give quota shares of some select fish stocks, the ones that aren't already spoken for that is, to a group of fishermen with recent history of fishing. Maybe not any pioneers of the fisheries like the other IFQ programs went. But that's another thing altogether. The big companies would get everything they wanted except for this little slice of the pie. And don't forget, a RSDA could be a CFA as a sideline.

Maybe a CFA would help, but I'm reminded of the old saw about the Dems and the Repubs. The Rebublicans propose a crappy program out of the blue where no fix is needed and the Dems counter-propose something less crappy to derail it and to maybe get some brownie points now that it's all the squawk. And that makes a tolerable situation worse. What if a CFA in Kodiak was just to quiet the dissent over a massive give-away and the little that Kodiak got wasn't enough. Unlike an RSDA, a CSA of limited scope would not be democratic, not be able to raise funds from it's membership automatically, or have much political clout. But then political clout isn't something anyone with it willingly hands over. You'd really see true colors come out if you proposed giving half the POP quota to longline and pot fishermen and let the trawlers have everything else. Not to mention dingtle-bar fishermen, which is probably the best way to catch them in terms of by-catch and efficiency.

You might be wondering why I mention Pacific ocean perch so much, a little known species, that's sent almost strictly to Japan. The Japanese know good fish, I guarantee. But the value of it all might be easily as much as the Bristol Bay salmon harvest and that's the thing to keep in mind. Think 'under the radar.' The foreign fleets, prior to the 200 mile limit law, took up to 700,000 metric tons a year. The stocks crashed and are now coming back strong.

That brings us back to how to ensure the community of Kodiak reaps some of this largess of nature they were founded on. God knows they need it: downtown Kodiak has gotten as bad off as all the other little coastal towns under the storm clouds of privatization, but nobody wants to address that. What is the right way forward? Although that statement probably gets lots of the same reaction as when I mentioned doing the right thing while working in State government: guffaws.

The real hot topic at the NPFM Council these days is by-catch, and that's because trawlers catch lots of the high value fish that are earmarked for other fishermen and the public, and those stocks are crashing. Sometimes the trawl industry will throw out a red herring, pardon the pun, and blame the stock crashes on the lack of an obscure herring-like fish that nobody could find much of anyway, going back many decades. The pot really shouldn't call the kettle black. The trawlers caught and dumped over 17 million pounds of squid one year, which are certainly king salmon food. Most of what the king salmon trollers use for an artificial bait looks just like a squid, down to the phosphorescent eyes.

And sometimes a trawler will catch a hundred tons of herring by accident and have to throw them back. They joke about the squid as being the bane of 'The Calamari Triangle.' The rest of the by-catch just gets a ho-hum. Even when they have caught up to around 400,000 salmon in a year. That was a bad year of course and isn't talked about. Maybe the reason the by-catch of king salmon has dropped is because they thinned them out so bad. I do have sources for these numbers and wish I could get officials to talk more. Or get more observer coverage on the decks of the trawlers. Very low coverage has been the norm, even though the public has been calling for full coverage for years.

I've covered much of this in my blog over a period of years. Nothing changes. An old running partner of mine just contacted me after decades of not much word with the announcement that he had to bail out of halibut fishing. There have been and are still lots of these little halibut fishing operations. With the current stock crash in halibut those quotas will all go real fast now to the big boats that grandfathered in and don't have Q payments. And you can project what will ultimately happen. Think Omega, that does all the menhaden fishing and processing on the East coast.

For a real eye-opener on halibut by-catch, go to the Tholepin blog. He has lots of pictures of what snow crab and halibut by-catch looks like. Maybe before the Council starts using bandaids like they are doing, they should do the economic impact analysis of it all that they promised many, many years ago. They would be bringing out the tourniquets instead. But of course anything useful they do now will highlight the political control the trawlers have over the Council. But don't feel bad, nobody has been able to get the big banks under control either.

The only hopeful note I can leave is that one key person in a big fish company I know told me "I don't agree with those guys." Meaning the upper management. So, go into the fish business if you got that burning desire, but have your eyes wide open. After all Sergeant York at first refused service in the U.S. Army during WWI, but then when he did feel the call to go in he became our most memorable hero of that war.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Last Territorial Governor Passes

Alaska's last Territorial Governor, Mike Stepovich, was only Governor a couple of years, but he was in the Governor's mansion when it counted, during the statehood fight. He was appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957 and Eisenhower signed the Statehood legislation the next year. Stepovich lobbied hard in the year preceding that signing. Statehood came in 1959 and that was the end of the Lower 48 owned and operated fish traps that prevented the growth of the Alaska salmon fishing fleet of locally owned vesssels. It's always a big fight to keep big business interests from degrading local standards of living..

How is Alaska doing now in that fight? Well, not so well, but I won't get into that here. This is about the passing of a great man, a man that many Alaskans have forgotten about and maybe didn't even know about. The point is, single men of conscience can make a difference. And of course nobody can assume that someone will come along to be their white knight. I always say to act like nobody else is going to do it. Mike Stepovich was a model for modern social reformers. Now reform means the same as it always has, to keep the rich from taking everything from the rest of us, and that seems ever more obvious. This has been going on in this country since the 1700s, becoming obvious after 'The Great Debate' between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, which kicked off progressives vs statists.

Mike Stepovich passed away in San Diego on Friday, Jan. 14, 2014 with all thirteen of his children present. He was 94 years old. In Oregon they call it 'crossing the bar,' going out over the river bar for the last time. Mike bought a home in the Rogue Valley of Oregon in 1977 and lived here since then, but he still practiced law in Alaska, traveling up there frequently. He loved the climate here according to his daughter Andrea Spepovich of Fairbanks. He was a founding board member of a pregnant teen center here and actively supported the food pantries in Medford and St. Mary's School. He was an active member of the country club here and played in numerous golf tournaments at the club golf course. Of course I feel disappointed that I didn't make his acquaintance living in the same place.

People here remember him as kindly and a real gentleman. Is it possible to get politicians cut from the same cloth anymore? And of course dedicated to the well-being of his constituents. He worked hard for Alaskans and was successful in his endeavors. Alaska coastal communities especially should lift a toast to his life and times. I know I will. The big cannery in Petersburg, that my Great-grandfather was production manager for briefly, passed into local hands after statehood. The outlawing of fish traps upon statehood forced many 'outside interests' to lose interest. Alaskans were plenty interested in self-determination though, and there was no shortage of expertise and determination to make it work for themselves. Funny how given an opportunity, people will step up. Mike Stepovich sure did.

There is a picture in the back of a book on pioneers of Petersburg that my folks spearheaded that I'm in. It's of the ribbon cutting ceremony on main-street Petersburg. My brothers Arnold and Steve and a friend, Mark Sandvik, had been trying to start a batch of salmonberry wine when we heard about the ribbon cutting. Seems we walked right into history standing in the picture of the ribbon cutting. I also was at the ribbon cutting ceremony when Petersburg Fisheries Inc. started up after purchasing the old Pacific American Fisheries plant. As a side note, I figured out later that a loan officer I worked with at the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank in the '80s, had been there too. Ivar Amundsen was a loan officer for the Small Business Administration then and traveled to Petersburg for the ceremony and appreciation for his help.

I don't know how I bump into ribbon cutting ceremonies so much, but I was at the one that ceremoniously opened the new big water-line into town, for the sake of keeping the canneries running seamlessly for one thing. I guess I had some hand in promoting that and entertained the grant guy from the Economic Development Administration, Bernie Richert.

I think the main point here is to give Alaskans the opportunity and they will build up their communities accordingly. There are lots of ways to do that still, such as giving Alaskan small boat fishermen a crack at the Pacific ocean perch resource that a relatively few trawlers, are hogging for themselves. I think a new form of conversation needs to be implemented, like a Wikepedia type format, to get these issues out of the hands of corporate interests. Anyone want to step up?

Friday, January 10, 2014

What's In A Name?

Remember when tanner crab was called 'spider crab'? There was no way that luscious delicacy of the deep was going to sell. The shrimp trawlers would get into a bunch of them and fill the trawls and the fishermen would just dump them over. There was no market for them. Then someone came up with the name 'snow crab' and they also figured out a way to run the legs through a roller to get out the meat. Thus a market was born. Not to forget the 'red bags' the bottomfish trawlers would get when they would plough through the old red king crab sanctuary that the Japanese trawlers would avoid before the 200 mile limit law. But that's a different story.

I've been seeing lately that chum salmon are being sold down here in Oregon as pink salmon. The chum salmon are not much different in color than the pinks, but why call the chum salmon pinks? I can understand why the grocers I saw in Arizona calling pink salmon king salmon. Much more appealing name. Consumers for the most part don't know there are different species of salmon, much less the subtleties of their flavors. Is it because 'pink' is just more understandable than 'chum'?

Granted 'chum' is much better than calling them 'dogs' as we did in Alaska. Is it time the lowly dog salmon get a name makeover? What does 'chum' invoke in the brain of a consumer in Oklahoma anyway? Is it time the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute did some research on a more appealing name?

King salmon doensn't need changing, nor red or pink salmon. But what is 'coho' too? My father ran a plant in Petersburg that did pioneering work on harvesting and processing king crab. He was also involved in the first efforts to develop a national advertising campaign for those crab. Tanner crab got a new name about that time as well. Not sure if the Alaska King Crab and Quality and Marketing Control Board had anything to do with tanners, but most likely they did. Maybe someone knows. I can't ask Dad anymore.

The King Crab Board morphed into ASMI, giving it more responsibility and State monies after a can of salmon from Ketchikan was found to be the culprit in a case of botulism. The only case I've ever heard of in 147 years of canning salmon in Alaska. Imagine the number of cans of salmon that effort has produced. But that's not the point either.

The point being, a change of name for marketing purposes has a whopping effect. What would another twenty cents a pound, or even a lot more, in the market yield to Alaska and the whole supply chain with a more appealing name? Believe me, there is no emotional attachment on my part as a former fisherman and processor to the name 'coho', or 'chum,' especially if it meant more money in everyone's pockets. And I think other fishermen and processors would feel the same.

Folks down here are coming up with names for their micro-brew beers, wines, and ciders all the time and that seems to be their strength. Now you have 'Druid Fluid,' 'Apocalypse,' 'Angry Orchard,' and the list goes on and on. Even going back to 'Chicken of the Sea' tuna, the salmon industry never seemed to take note of marketing subtleties. Why is that?

I proposed a label design to a big canned salmon brokerage I knew one time and the answer was it takes too much money to promote a new label. Even if the label outsells the other ones on a year after year basis? But as we know, it's hard for bureaucracy to change course. It reminds me of trying to dodge a log while on wheel watch on a big ship once. You can turn and turn the wheel, but the heading stays the same. Remember the Titanic?

Well, maybe it will be up to the brokers, distributors, direct marketers, and small processors of said species of salmon. You still would put 'coho' or 'chum' on the package, but in smaller print. Then use what you think would find a niche market in larger print. What would you use to lure the Mac and cheese crowd? Maybe 'Zombie Fuel,' or 'Angry Ocean' with a illustration of a Perfect Storm wave on the label. Anyway, you get the drift.

For the upper crust crowd, you take the tack toward a genteel label and trademark that reinforces their sense of entitlement and superior DNA. Well, that's only 1% of the market, so maybe forget that niche. But they do have the money to buy a sixty five dollar can of smoked coho with a label that would demand such a price. Hint, the name 'Rothschild's' is already taken. 'Newman's Own' did rather well. 'Jimmy Buffet's' not so much. Maybe 'Warren Buffet's' though. I suspect that 'Elvis' chum salmon would sell in Japan with their penchant for Karaoke.

These would not be wasted efforts. Unlike the effort to sell turbot from Alaska down here. The Fisheries Industrial Technology center in Kodiak has been trying for decades to make that predominant catch of the trawlers in large sections of the Gulf of Alaska into an edible product. I purposely ordered a real fishy sounding flatfish in one of the top restaurants in Southern Oregon because I suspected it was turbot. And sure enough it was. Completely inedible. Even though the waitress warned me off it, and the cook came out and asked me how I liked it. I didn't let on that I knew the whole story of how they got duped by the distributor and packer into thinking it was some new kind of Alaska true, left handed sole, or whatever it was called on the menu. Now that took imagination and guts. Well, maybe duplicity and naivete.

 In that case it was a attempt to boost the fortunes of a large trawl/processing combine that harvests valuable sablefish as a bycatch, and which it got quota rights for through the Federal Fisheries Council process, and of course, wheel-greasing by it's lobbyists. A huge amount of information represented by that one bite. I never did tell that restaurant what they were trying to peddle. I have close friends that have the award winning cafe in Medford, 'Capers,' where I talked the cook into switching to Copper River King salmon. I don't  doubt they will retain their title as having the best tasting food in Southern Oregon.

Last on the menu today is the subject of Pacific ocean perch, aka, POP. These had been caught in vast numbers by the Japanese and Russian trawlers prior to the 1976 implementation of the '200 mile limit law.' They caught many hundreds of thousands of tons every year. Not that that level of harvest was sustainable. POP does propagate exponentially and rapidly though, like cold germs, sometimes dying off en-mass due to overpopulation in juvenile rearing grounds. The U.S. fleet is hip to their existence and is cautiously increasing the catch limits every year, now much more than the halibut catch. And they are highly prized in Japan for their bright red skin color, portion size and fabulous taste.

But there are tons of other kinds of rock-fish in the Pacific ocean and the name 'Pacific ocean perch' doesn't ring anyone's bell in particular. And West Coast distribution would impact the market for all the other miscellaneous species of rock-fish, especially here with the Oregon Trawl Commission at cabinet level status. I haven't seen POP in the market here yet. I'd love to though. It's in restaurants in Texas, where their red snapper are not as abundant as the demand is. Looking forward to seeing more POP in the stores in the Lower 48 as the quotas work their way up in years to come.

Remember, that resource is about as valuable as Bristol Bay red salmon. Hence the gradual move to utilize it fully by big companies buying up trawlers, and their quota holding owners, in the Gulf of Alaska. When the fleet is satisfactorily consolidated in a few hands, then you might see these delicious fish sold more widely as 'their' fisheries management council delivers a maybe ten-fold quota increase.

So what would you call POP on the U.S. market? Maybe 'Scarlet O'hara.' You might get a whole lot of older white males looking for 'Scarlet' in a dining out experience. Maybe 'Deep Reds,' in contrast to the shallow reds of Bristol Bay. I don't think it does any good to wait for 'someone' to come up with a catchy name that will sell the fish well in the market. Just experiment. Innovation doesn't come from bureaucracy as we all know.

Some of the biggest breakthroughs in Alaska seafood marketing came from regular guys with imagination and guts, like Denton Sherry, RIP, who opened the sujiko market, and Dean Kayler who opened the frozen coho and chum market in Europe. The latter contributed greatly to the rapid expansion of cold storage capacity in Alaska, which allowed the rapid shift to frozen sockeye when the Japanese were kicked out of our Exclusive Economic Zone.

Trying something new is mostly not expensive, doing nothing is very expensive.The investment in trying to market sujiko (salmon roe), and frozen bright chum and coho came at the astronomical cost of an airline ticket each.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Hole In The Ground Owned By Liars"

You just gotta agree that Mark Twain hits the nail a lot. Well, maybe the miners would take offense to his 'hole in the ground quote'. I had to chuckle though, at the disparity between the Mark Twain quote used by the big mining company CEO and Mark Twain's assessment of miners. On the one hand, the Northern Dynasty guy who is pitching the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay is trying everything he can think of, including opinion pieces in the Anchorage Daily News, where he quoted Mark Twain. He used the quote "The rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated" to intimate that the Pebble Mine is not down and out, after the British (and the Japanese) pulled their support for the mine for environmental reasons.

So to put Mark Twain's view of mining in perspective, the author of the Huffington Post article referenced above, used the other famous quote, "A mine is a hole in the ground owned by liars." Northern Dynasty is a mining company that is typically Canadian in that resource extraction is the end-all, be-all. Environmental concerns be damned. Just look at the devastation of the 'Tar Sands,' their petroleum pipelines, their fish farms, and now they want to even raise genetically modified fish, the first in the world.

'Manifest Destiny' was in full swing in Mark Twain's time and anyone who found a couple of specks of gold in a creek would be hitting up investors with promises of great fortune in the surrounding ground. Many more attempts at developing mines than ever got developed. How many more miners hiked over the Chilkoot Trail into the Yukon than brought back a fortune in gold? According to Mont Hawthorn, who tried this, not very many at all. The guy from Petersburg who is remembered for his success up there was the one who brought thirty odd cats to Dawson to sell to the prostitutes. Don't know how many times he did that, but he ended up buying downtown property and starting thriving businesses in Petersburg and Wrangell.

Successful or not, miner's money gets spread around, there is no doubt about that. But what other industry pays $100,000 a year salaries like Northern Dynasty promises? I'll call BS on that one for sure. In a nearby bonanza town, Dutch Harbor, there are 26 languages spoken in the school system. The big companies have brought in people from all over the world to work the low wage jobs in the 'lucrative' bottom-fish business. In this age of union-busting I don't believe those jobs at Pebble will be high paying.

The promise of big paying mine jobs is easier to swallow in Alaska because of the memory of high paying jobs to complete the Alyeska Pipeline. The urgency to finish that project was immense, thus the good paying jobs. There is no urgency to keep grinding rock up for the small percent of minerals in it over the next 50 years. The cash flow can garner a lot of bank interest if it gets under way though. They could start to develop a mine on the moon with the guarantees. Or they could level the rain forest in Brazil for more gold.

Putting the certainty of the demise of the salmon runs in Bristol Bay aside for the sake of argument, we not only doubt the credibility of Northern Dynasty's pitch, as Alaska survivalists, and that's what you have to be there, are steeped in looking at things realistically. You don't survive long in Alaska by not being a realist or you end up like Christopher McCandless who starved to death in an abandoned school bus in Alaska with game all around. The key word is risk management. Be Prepared, like in the Boy Scouts motto.

Big promises and disregard for the risks, as in Northern Dynasty's pitch, sounds more like a McCandless operation. And you know it wouldn't be any Canadians who starve on the Pebble Mine project. At least the miners in Mark Twain's time put their lives on the line, as overly optimistic as they were. The prospect of gold riches drives men to stretch the truth now just as it did in Mark Twain's time. There is no way to put this kind of behavior in politically correct terms.

What would you say to the man who lied and hundreds of thousands of people died as a result. I reference Dick Cheney who was behind the big 'weapons of mass destruction' lie. My own son was caught up in that frenzy of combating something that didn't exist, for some other reason. Does the term 'trail of tears' ring a bell, as regards all the dead and wounded men it took to defend that lie. Lies and liars are like that.

The Canadians have said that no farmed fish will escape into the wild to mix with natural salmon runs. Oops, they have been caught by Alaskan commercial fishermen far up into the Gulf of Alaska after escaping British Columbia fish farms. Now they want to raise genetically modified fish, which could render our stocks unable to survive in the wild? Miners especially seem to be the kind that would ensure that Pandora's Box is guaranteed secure.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Epitome of the 20th Century Cannery-man

My father worked in the fishing business all his life, not necessarily starting working in the cold storage in Petersburg when he was thirteen. That would have been around 1929. The year the stock market crashed. Also the year his parents built the house that his sweetie still lives in today, up the street from Raven's Rood park. The prospect of keeping the mortgage afloat those first years in that first architect-designed house in Petersburg was dim indeed.

Grandma Augusta went to work in the steam laundry while Grandpa Martin kept plugging away with the family fishing boat, the Augusta. I don't know what happened to fish prices in the early years of the depression, but it couldn't have been pretty, if there was much demand for the fish at all on the market. The family home was ultimately saved by the generosity of the woman who owned the steam laundry at the time. I remember us driving to her house in Seattle to visit during my first trip to Seattle, during the 1962 World's Fair. It was a fateful moment in the Enge timeline.

Cannery-men are still the subject here, but in passing, I should mention the generosity of John Hammer and Andrew Wikan, who owned a grocery store. Many Petersburg folks would have had an unknown future if not for the credit these two businessmen extended. The only reason they stayed in business was due to the rental houses they owned adjacent to the present South Boat Harbor. People pulled together back then. Not that they still don't, it's just that big businesses dominate the landscape with the classic W. C. Fields motto, "Never give a sucker an even break."

Dad certainly did his share of crewing out seining for salmon and longlining for halibut on the Augusta with his two brothers and other crew members. He remembered his dad settling up with the crew with little stacks of gold coins on the galley table. Of losing Uncle Ernest, the youngest of the three boys, overboard and Martin just turning the wheel hard over at running speed to come about and pick him up. Dad seemed to be the skiff man a lot. Which meant you had to lean into those big oars on the seine skiff the whole time the seine was in the water. That was probably the hardest job on the boat. Now it's the least physically demanding, albeit, requiring some above average boat savvy.

He worked his way through the University of Washington School of Fisheries this way. He was a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity and lived at the frat house. He was it's President for awhile at least and had his brother Arnold stay there too while he was taking flight lessons. They shared ownership of a Model A Ford. Dad was quite the Esquire Man even back in those days. He told of dating the daughter of the head of the Alaska Packers Association who had canneries all over Alaska and Puget Sound. The girl had her own Dussenburg which in those days was the equivalent of dating Paris Hilton. Dad said she wore braces on her teeth which sounded like a deal-breaker. But maybe this was the time he became interested in fish buying and plant operations. Certainly there would have been influence if he had been around the father much.

Those old captains of industry were the kings and king makers of the economy of the West Coast in those days just prior to World War II. And I know that the draw of Alaska is also a deal-breaker for relationships at college in 'The Lower 48.' Spring anywhere in the world smells like herring and salmon and reminds one of the cultural and financial rewards of getting one's rear end post-haste back to the fishing grounds. Dad was like his sons and most Alaska men, content to live the demanding lifestyle of Alaska last frontier life until love comes knocking in the form of a recent immigrant beauty. In Dad's case it was a new Home Economics teacher at Petersburg High right after the war.

His leadership skills were further formed in the crucible of the War as a Lieutenant in the Navy, first as a Navy pilot, then as the captain of several ocean going LSTs. He had been in the ROTC at the U of W. When war broke out he was in Petersburg and immediately reported in. But between college and his military service he had been buying fish at the Petersburg Cold Storage for Washington Fish and Oyster Company of Seattle. His friend, Dave Ohmer, was the buyer for Whiz Fish Co., also of Seattle. Besides bidding on halibut trips that came in to the Cold Storage under the then auction system at the public facility, he ran a fast flat bottom river skiff down the Wrangell Narrows to buy from the beach seiners like Shaky Frank. Shaky Frank had a warehouse in the first bight in from the mouth of Petersburg Creek.

Dad had also fished commercially up Petersburg Creek as a kid. He and a couple of other kids gillnetted steelhead for his Grandfather, Rasmus. I don't know who did the splitting and salting in barrels, but they did the cold, wet fishing in the spring for that early run, which could have been substantial in those days. Petersburg Creek even had a king salmon run in those days, but I don't imagine it lasted long with commercial fishing available anywhere in the watershed. The king run could have been snuffed out in that first steelhead fishery up the creek. Which begs the question, could they be re-introduced?

After all, Rasmus had been the first Production Manager the town of Petersburg had. It was his job to get fish for the canning line in the first cannery there. Back then at the turn of the century anything went as far as finding fish went. Manifest Destiny was in full swing in Alaska, even though the buffalo had been wiped out by then Down South. When Rasmus had a falling out with Petersburg's namesake, Peter Buschmann, over excessive harvesting of herring in front of town, he got into the fish buying and selling business himself. Rasmus pioneered the Stikine gillnet fishery too and sold barrels of salt fish to the Norwegian farmers in Minnesota out of a horse drawn wagon.

When Rasmus settled in to run his theater and roller skating business and building buildings on Sing Lee Alley, Dad was his little shadow. Dad loved to accompany him around town visiting other businessmen friends of Rasmus. Business got in his blood. Dad was tall for his age and his mother Augusta, the socialite that she was, made sure he was properly decked out in the latest boy's fashions. She even had him take piano lessons. Dad recalled looking down from the second floor of the Enge Building on Sing Lee Alley where they lived, and where he was born, at the other boys playing while he was supposed to be practicing. The lure was too much and Augusta finally relented, thus ending his piano career.

You might say he was groomed from the start in the business end of the fish business. But he also was a product of generation of Enge fishermen before that, and someone was bound to end up running fish plants. And he was quick witted enough to pull it off. In later years when the politics of the fish business became particularly odious, Mom said that Dad kept his job running the plant in Petersburg for Whitney-Fidalgo Seafoods mostly because he had a good recall of facts and figures. By then, in the seventies, he had mastered the fishing game and worked it until his retirement from Petersburg Fisheries at the age of 72.

I suppose I'll have to recount his exploits and routine duties of running cold storages and canneries in Alaska in future posts before I can move on to other subjects in this blog. It's hard to stick to one subject about Petersburg and Alaska when memories come flooding back. I'm sure it's Jean Curry and her work on the Petersburg Class Reunion web-site that has re-ignited my desire to get back to where I started in my blogging: putting memories to paper for my kids and others. And maybe with the idealistic aim of trying to keep history from repeating itself so much.

 I think Dad excelled at the game of bidding for halibut and salmon on the Petersburg fish auction. He said some buyers had a hard time keeping up. He really wanted to expand his role at that facility due to this success, but he was young. And very young for a ship's captain when he had to quit buying to support invasions of Japanese and German held lands. He might have been at the Normandy invasion except his ship was blown in half by a German torpedo or mine. He spent most of his service in the Pacific supporting the island hopping of the Marines. He would have two landing craft on deck when they got somewhere and then slide them over the rail to take men ashore. When the beach was secure he would land his ship and disgorge tanks and whatever else was in the main cargo deck.

The scope of operations like that certainly gave him a larger vision of what could be done to improve the infrastructure of the fishing industry. Cannery tenders and canning lines could hold any mystery after experiences like that. I think he was typical of servicemen returning to a economy devastated by the Great Depression, an economic void, but with the resources and now full of men with vision and a lust for the good things of life. With his prior fish buying experience, Dad sought out a potential fish buyer in the form of Lennie Engstrom of Wrangell, who needed buyers in various places. Dad got the job of buying fish for the Engstrom Brothers at the fairly new Pelican Cold Storage in Pelican. That's where a couple of us little Enges sprouted from.

There was a lure to being a fish buyer and plant operator in Alaska that maybe even had more allure than being a hedge fund manager today. In owning a plant there was certainly the prospect of relative healthy financial rewards. But even as a hired plant manager, there was the prospect of the traditional role of the superintendant as king of the local economy and a good piece of the fabric of the culture of the town it was located in. Mankind has always sought power above anything and my Dad was no exception.

After two years in Pelican he met a cannery man from Petersburg, Chris Dahl, who offered him the job of running their new cannery and cold storage there. The dream job just showed up. Being the top buyer in the town he knew and that his Grandparents helped found. His town, and now he had the job befitting his experience, his DNA, and expectations. To most of the old cannery-men it didn't matter much whether they owned a piece of the action or not, just being the top guy was enough. He passed on some opportunities to get a piece of the action.

Is what he liked, besides 'unloading the boats' as he said, was helping people in the fleet and the business  In that regard he wasn't the best at what he did. He wasn't ruthless enough to go beyond what he had on his plate as a 'super.' He bemoaned others who broached his sense of business ethics. And ultimately came under fell under the axe of the out-of-control Whitney-Fidalgo Seafoods 'axe man.' Not that the axe-man was out of control. Whitney only lasted two more years before filing bankruptcy. In 1969 when they bought the Kayler-Dahl Fish Co. plant in Petersburg Dad was running, they were canning 25% of the Alaska canned salmon pack and were about the largest fish company on the West Coast of the United States. It was fun for both me and Dad working for them in the early to mid seventies. Disappointment with the company set in pretty fast.

Dad liked helping out fishermen wanting to get a new boat or into a new fishery. Some of this was from his knowledge of fish resources and fish biology from his training under Dr. Donaldson of the U of W. and some from the pioneer days of people helping each other to just survive. One time he bought a sweet little troller called the 'Adak' for a fishermen who just didn't have the money at the time. We had some great trips on that boat until the fisherman came up with the money to buy it from Dad. We would tow the little Davis double ender to Ideal Cove and us kids would hike up to the lake for some swimming and trout fishing.

Later my uncle and Gordon Jensen brought up the first steel fishing boats to Petersburg and Dad got him prospecting for king crab. He got another less than prosperous boat man to run a tender to bring in some of the first catches of king crab to Petersburg. Ralph had been a famous brown bear guide out of Petersburg. He just didn't have the knack for fishing and that flopped with the loss of the string of company financed pots. My uncle developed multiple sclerosis two years after buying that big steel limit seiner. But by then other fishermen for the other big cannery in town had jumped in and the rest is history. Mostly a history of overharvest as was the case in the Bering Sea king crab fishery.

Like Dad's prior appoiintment to the Alaska King Crab Marketing and Quality Control Board that kicked off the king crab boom and craving for the delicious seafood, he worked with the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program Director, John Doyle, to inaugurate herring gillnetting. One of Whitney-Fidalgo's plants, the cold storage in Yakutat, had been the first in Alaska to buy and process seine herring for the Japanese roe market. Dad however felt that gillnetting herring was the best way to catch herring as it was possible to select only the upper year classes with larger mesh nets, where seining catches the younger year classes as well, making it harder to sustain the fishery. And that has been the case in some herring seine fisheries. In fact all the seine herring fisheries in Alaska, most of which are non-existent even after seining has ceased on many of them for seventy five years in a lot of cases.

This was the kind of work that set the stage for him to be the pioneer processor and maybe instigator of the first herring gillnet fishery in Alaska. I say this because us three boys represented the company, a tender, and a gillnet skiff in the first attempt to go out and actually gillnet some roe herring. The first processing of finfish caught with pots also occurred at his plant in Petersburg, with me supplying the blueprints of the pots and Steve going out and loading up on blackcod.

And this prefaced his work to run one of the first two bottom-fish plants in the State and surrounding waters by Americans. More on that in a later post as well. And I suppose that last pioneering was the pinnacle of the career of a cannery-man: the establishment of a major processing contingent using new technology. And it didn't hurt that he was named the first President of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, whose pilot projects proved that Americans could make surimi just as good as the Japanese.

Getting back to his helping people in the industry pull themselves up by the bootstraps, he gave the founder of Icicle Seafoods his first job in Alaska. That was a real win, unlike trying to get a bunch of king crab into his plant. Helping Bob was something he naturally did, even though it cost him his fleet of boats when his boss in Seattle didn't match the prices paid to fishermen by the newly minted Petersburg Fisheries under Bob's purview. But Dad had the background to always make a profit for his company.

I remember Dad and Tom Thompson discussing the break-even volume of canned salmon needed for particular plants like they had had analyzed the numbers for months like a Marsh & McClennan accounting office. Which they hadn't. Just a lot of comparable factors that nobody but these plant managers would have a clue about. Just a long history in the fishing game.

Cannery men sometimes had ancillary skills like Dad's interest and adeptness in aviation. Flying a plane for the fish company came in real handy when a boat needed help wrapping up a school of fish, or a part needed to be dropped off on the grounds. Cannery men had a lot of interests that were later parlayed into good moves on the chess board of fisheries. Doing a lot of these things yourself made it possible for a small cannery/cold storage to make money and support the family which ended up numbering five children. As he was retiring other plants and fishermen started to hire pilots with airplanes to do the same thing.

Recruiting of key staff and control was not the least of his abilities and talents. His cold storage foreman worked there for 25 years and his shrimp and crab and sometimes cannery foreman about the same amount of time. One Alaska Native and the other Japanese American. Loyal to the core and efficient to the max. They were like King David's Mighty Men of Valor who could shoot a bow with right or left hand. Joe Kawashima could teach anyone how to best pick shrimp, rewire a motor from single phase to three phase, or he could drive piling by himself in the middle of the dock under buildings. I didn't find out until years later when I was contacted by someone in Los Angeles researching Ben Berkeley that he was in fact a martial arts master. My first boss and a wonderful teacher of many things practical.

Some of the rest of the crew was like then too. Like Dick Kuwata who trained in the Philipines to resist a communist insurrection. He could draw and throw a knife like nobody's business. Dick could head salmon so perfectly and fast that there was no reason to get a heading machine for the cold storage while he was there. And everyone else had to shoot for his degree of perfection, saving the company untold dollars in the recovery rates attained. Dick worked for Dad for about 22 years I think. Keeping in mind that Dad worked in a cold storage plant when he was thirteen, I didn't start until I was seventeen.

When we both went through the 'great disillusionment' during the fall of Whitney-Fidalgo, I felt it more keenly than Dad who had seen companies come and go and his own boss cause the near ruin of Kayler-Dahl. And his grief of being frozen out of the Petersburg Cold Storage when he came back from the War. Where I picked up my pieces and took a right turn into R&D, fisheries banking, and government service, he went on with a different company, working for a former protoge, Bob Thorstensen, like nothing had happened.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Plan B for Alaska's coastal communities.

Yeah, John, Salmon Limited Entry, as the first privatization scheme in the country, had a jump-start from Petersburg when a local seiner became it's first President. The Petersburg seiners were interested, as it was said, in keeping the Seattle seine fleet out, since they had knocked down their own fishery and were moving north. Ironically, a later and long time UFA President was a Seattle resident. UFA was revered in Petersburg because those fishermen were multi-species fishermen and now a lot of them have fistfulls of valuable permits, thanks to that original effort. Victor (see a recent blog post for his letter in the Alaska Dispatch)  is from Petersburg, as I am, and I can see why he used that term. You would have been ostracized by the community then if you didn't see things their way.  Like I've said before, many fishermen who pioneered in the fisheries, and many Native fishermen who had fished all their lives, didn't get the prized permit card.

My dad was a business leader there and friend of this first President, who called himself 'The Dog Salmon King,' and later 'The Herring King.' I remember flying with my dad and 'buzzing' his seine boat in a sign of friendship.I also crewed on his seiner once. But the end result was the disappearance of hundreds and hundreds of salmon fishing vessels of all sorts. Especially in the Native villages, ones that even had salmon canneries, now defunct. I know that it's hard to make any progress righting the economic malaise caused by privatization when the federal fishery managers are still promoting the idea.

As privatization programs crop up like mushrooms around the country, folks should take a look at some to the Alaska fishing communities that had long backgrounds in fishing, but not the killer instinct of places like Petersburg. Should lifestyle fishermen be sidelined because they don't aspire to vacuuming up the oceans? I can make a case that the small-time fishermen are better for the oceans and the communities too.

Well, maybe Fukushima will end the whole thing on the West Coast anyway. That or ocean acidification. I do know that the fishing communities will have to be a lot more aware than they have been just to hang on to what they have. The city fathers in the fishing communities have as good a Plan B as the 180 Villages or so that are facing being washed away by global warming. No plan at all.

Victor's letter was great.  One little thing struck me tho.  He called the UFA "much revered" when it was taken over.  Maybe it was revered but if it was it was because people never realized it was a criminal organization as far back as the passage of Salmon Limited entry, maybe even formed for the purpose of saving Salmon LE which was getting turned down by 90% of the fishing communities.  I don't know if there was a UFA before that time, if there was, then it was probably revered.  In Salmon LE days UFA was Hammond, Palmer, Tillion, Daniels, Ricky, etc., and probably it's only member in Kodiak was Oscar Dyson. They saved SLE and destroyed the fleet.
Oh, that's the memo. It might be some fodder to get the word out about what Alaskans really think about privatization for the benefit of the East Coasters. I know there was a lot of hype over how much good it did for Alaska. Nobody ever asked the Alaskans on the street. The article is headlined as 'Anthropologist presents fish survey results to work group." I didn't see the whole article because I didn't sign up to get the paper on line. But I did see that 77% of respondents think privatization is a disaster for the local economy. I'm sure this is reflective of what is going on in the other Alaska ports, from my time as a plant operator, economic developer as a gubernatorial appointee, and constant observer of this issue.

My hometown of Petersburg, AK has similar economic malaise: rumor had it that the big cannery in town wouldn't run a few years ago, and the other big cannery used the excuse of some minor damage to it's dock by the state ferry to stay closed one summer. The economic impact of a major employer in a town of only 3,000 people not hiring for a year is not insignificant. The NMFS has refused to do the economic analysis that was required of them when privatization of the halibut fishery was instituted.

The number one fallacy was that privatization would stop "the race for fish." There was never a race for fish, it was a race to get history to gain the private ownership rights. Anybody that says different just wasn't there when it was all happening, and before when lots of boats of all sizes were making good money and nobody could imagine owining fish as they swam. Petersburg, in this earlier time had the second highest income per capita in the United States in the 1960 census. Petersburg residents were decended from Norwegian immigrants who longlined halibut and cod in Norway and immediately took to this fishery. The same decendents are still there, but the town has fallen greatly in wealth distribution and general downtown business health due to commercial fishing. If federal and state dollars and tourism were taken out of the equation, the town might not be able to provide nearly as many services to it's residents.

Ms. Carouthers, of the University of Alaska, is a little late in this study. The U of A Institute of Social and Economic Research has not been forthcoming in it's concern for it's stated purpose. Politics and not fisheries management science has been the driving force in 'who should fish.' I think it has been a travesty that the fleets of commercial fishing vessels in the Alaska Native Villages has dropped to a mere shadow of their former glory in the 1960s and early '70s. Some of their leaders are pushing the feds now to do some rectifying of the situation, but a whole culture of commercial fishing has been lost there.

I remember it like you said, "we had 300 boats in our little fleet in Kodiak and now it's down to 50. and everyone back then brought home the bacon."As far as not getting top billing for the article in the Kodiak Daily Mirror with the new editor, we have the same problem here. I found out Rupert Murdock own our paper. Very few letters to the editor get in to throw dirt on the GMO folks. I guess we can get some in, not like your paper which quit printing any letters about fishing after the summer of 2008.

You know, salmon privatization crept in about the time the Vietnam War push-back efforts in the  U.S. were kicking into high gear. Lots of distraction, and back door deal-making, like giving out permits to shut people up. without all the dirty tricks Limited Entry didn't have that much success of gaining Legislative support. And of course nobody ever tried to explain it to the public much. And nobody could really forsee that once one fishery privatized, a gold rush mentality would set in and nimrods from far and wide would go out on anything that would float to 'earn history' for the next fishery to be privatized. Been there, done that, just never got the coffee mug and T shirt.

I personally had enough 'history,' starting with skiff fishing for halibut as a kid and going out on the family longliner, to win a federal grant to develop an automatic baiting machine. Obviously I wasn't qualified to earn any quota in the lawmakers' eyes.. And even the federal grant prevented me from profiting from my invention. Not that I wanted to be a professional fisherman anyway: I remember applying for a research analyst job with the state in my twenties somewhere.

I'm not going to belabor this much, but I'll combine our comments for the sake of others.