The Winding Glass is written by John Sackton, Editor and Publisher of Seafood.com News to discuss stories, share comments and opinions and give feedback. It’s a tool for community discussion in our industry-- from every angle. So whether you are crab fishing in Alaska, importing from Vietnam, promoting American Shrimp or cursing those who do, whether you are a fisherman, processor, distributor, foodservice buyer or retailer, scientist or manager, or have any connection to our industry, join in.
The Louisiana shrimp season opened again today, but fishermen are facing lower prices and a market that is skittish about Gulf seafood. In our video we support the idea of BP offering an incentive program to jump start the industry again.
We have both an obituary and a video reflecting on Sen. Ted Stevens contribution to the U.S. Seafood industry.
Remembering Ted Stevens as the key fisheries architect of the modern era
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS by John Sackton - Aug 11, 2010 - Many in the seafood industry are in shock today at the news of the death of Alaska's Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican Senator in history. Stevens was killed in a small plane crash, in which five passengers died and four survived, on their way up the Nushagak to a fishing lodge near Dillingham.
As we report elsewhere, Stevens was one of the architects of Alaska statehood, and was involved in every aspect of the growth and development of Alaska. But most of the material written today in memory of Ted Stevens only mentions the fishing industry in passing.
Yet his fishing legacy is probably the most lasting contribution he has made to public policy, and as a model for sustainable fishing on a large scale, it is influential around the world.
Stevens himself would be amused to realize that his legacy of sustainable fishing is now widely praised by environmentalists, with whom he often clashed.
Stevens first began serving as a Senator from Alaska in 1968, appointed by then Governor Wally Hickel. When the Magnuson Act, originally known as the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, established the 200 mile limit and the regional fisheries management councils, Stevens was still a relatively young Senator from Alaska.
But in subsequent years, he made the act his own, and in various revisions it was renamed the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Stevens rose to become head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where he had major influence on any legislation impacting Alaska.
In 1992, he was responsible for the creation of the Western Alaska Community Development corporations. This is one of the most successful fisheries allocation programs ever devised.
The CDQ program directed NMFS to assign 10% of the quotas allocated in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to a group of six corporations, representing native villages from the Aleutians to Bristol Bay to Norton Sound, and including the Islands of St. Paul and St. George. The groups were then to use the money from these fish resources to create jobs, income, and social services.
Collectively, the CDQ groups have done a spectacular job. Parlaying their harvest rights into ownership of fisheries corporations, the CDQ groups now collectively have assets of over $600 million. Meanwhile, the incomes of the populations have improved dramatically, and poverty rates have fallen.
At the same time, the CDQ groups are transforming Alaska's fisheries. Many of them are now owners of parts of the major pollock, cod and crab fleets, and they are the force behind some of the new investments in Bristol Bay, transforming salmon from a canned to a more valuable fillet product.
Stevens loved Alaska and he loved business. As a result, he looked for business oriented solutions to problems. In this case, he strengthened Alaskan ownership, protected remote communities, and did so in a way that strengthened the business environment.
One of the most intractable fisheries issues of the 1990's was the battle in the pollock industry between the offshore catcher processors and the shore based processing plants in Dutch Harbor and Akutan.
As the pollock stock and markets boomed, the offshore sector was gaining an increased market share, and the onshore plants, with huge investments on the ground in Alaska, felt increasingly threatened.
The issue was so heated that a fist fight broke out at one of the North Pacific Council meetings.
Finally, Sen. Stevens stepped in and told the parties they had to work out a joint compromise, and he would get it through Congress. The result was a permanent inshore - offshore allocation, in which the inshore plants gained about 10% more pollock, and the American Fisheries Act, passed into law in 1998.
The American Fisheries Act provided that US citizens had to own at least a 75% share of any vessel participating in US fisheries, bringing an end to the practice whereby American built keels were brought to Norway by foreign owners, rebuilt as catcher processors, and entered the pollock fishery.
But even more importantly, the Act capped the quotas and fishing percentages of the pollock stocks, and allowed the participants to create co-ops whereby they allocated the total catch among themselves, both in the inshore, offshore, and mothership sectors.
The result was ending a race for fish, and spectacularly increasing the value of the pollock fishery, so that it became the backbone of all Alaskan fisheries. Today, the pollock fishery, the largest fishery in the U. S. is globally recognized for an unparalleled record of conservation, effective management, efficiency, and great profitability.
Stevens also shepherded though major amendments to the Magnuson Stevens Act, setting in place American standards for fisheries conservation. These included national standards that required stocks to be managed using the best available science, and supporting long term sustainable yield.
Stevens also steered a great deal of money and effort into fisheries research and science.
Jim Balsiger, head of NMFS Alaska region, wrote:
'This is an especially sad day for the Alaska Region of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, where we have worked in cooperation with former Senator Ted Stevens to make Alaska's fisheries among the best managed in the world. '
'Senator Stevens was distinguished as a champion of sustainable ocean policy and influenced nearly every marine environmental and resource management law in the U. S. Senate over the past four decades. Alaska waters were often the test bed of revolutionary new ways of science-based fishery management and resource allocations that promoted safety and incentives for sustainability. '
'Senator Stevens was a tireless advocate for U. S. fisheries and marine science. He was instrumental in promoting the new Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau which replaced the aging Auke Bay Lab. This laboratory honors his legacy with the name, the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute.'
Stevens also was instrumental in efforts to market Alaska fish. Alaska is one of the most recognized brand names in the world when it comes to fish and seafood. This is in no small part due to the long term efforts of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, an organization that is supported both by direct industry funds, and state and occasionally federal appropriations.
The marketing done by ASMI helped revitalize the Alaska salmon industry, which was on the ropes in the early 1990's when farmed salmon exploded into the market. Today, Alaska's wild salmon is recognized as a premium, differentiated product, routinely getting higher prices than farmed salmon.
Stevens also fought for equity for Alaskan salmon, making the point that if USDA was going to extend its 'organic' standard to fish, then there had to be a mechanism whereby the USDA would recognize the wild and natural nature of wild salmon, as well as a route whereby farmed salmon could be certified organic. The issue has not been resolved, but this was the kind of fight Ted Stevens loved.
For the seafood industry, Stevens was the person in Washington who got things done, and who prevented diversions in terms of frivolous or burdensome rules. He never allowed Washington to lose sight of the fact that fishing was a vast economic enterprise, vital to the health of Alaska and many other parts of the country.
Stevens finally was a victim of his own long 40 year career and as he put it, his willingness to trust people too much. He was burned by false accusations from Bill Allen, CEO of Alaska contractor Veco corp., which led to a federal prosecution and his loss in the 2008 election. Later, a judge ruled that this prosecution represented the most serious case of prosecutorial misconduct he had seen in 25 years on the bench, and an embarrassed Justice Department declined to pursue the case further. But the damage had been done, and Stevens' Senatorial career was over.
Without Ted, the industry has lost much of its clout in Washington, and even though the Alaska and Washington Senate delegations often take a united stand on fisheries issues, the balance of power has shifted away from the business oriented legislators to more social and environmentally oriented legislators. Without Stevens to watch for ridiculous approaches to fisheries, there is an increased danger that legislation will weaken some of the strongest fisheries management systems in the world.
Ted will be sorely missed, even out of office. His legacy to the seafood industry was a period of phenomenal success and growth for U. S. fisheries, and it is fair to say that without his efforts, the seafood industry in the U. S. would be vastly different, weaker, less conservation minded and less profitable, than it actually is today.
Restoring Confidence in Gulf Seafood is the job of the entire U. S. industry (editorial)
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS by John Sackton (Editorial Comment) - Aug 6, 2010 - There are two important developments for the seafood industry today regarding the Gulf. First, the FDA has released a detailed letter unequivocally stating that dispersants do not accumulate in fish and shellfish, and that they represent no long term threat to Gulf Seafood.
Secondly, Harlon Pearce and the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board are trying to get BP to help focus on reviving supplies of Gulf seafood, though an incentive program that would pay fishermen a 30% bonus over market price for the shrimp and fish they land.
The FDA finding should be widely publicized to retailers and chefs. It is the first unequivocal scientific statement that Gulf seafood is safe that does not depend on government testing or monitoring.
There is a dangerous momentum around the idea that somehow Gulf seafood is suspect. This not only damages Gulf producers, but it depresses the consumption of all seafood. The dilemma faced by Louisiana is nicely expressed in a Times - Picayune editorial. That is that first, they have suffered from a catastrophic event - the worst oil spill in U. S. history. Many businesses have had to shut down or lost income. But the second part of this dilemma is that in fact, Gulf seafood is safe. What has been available has never had any seafood safety issues.
Now, as fisheries areas reopen under an NOAA-FDA protocol, the best thing that could happen for the Gulf is to ramp up supplies of fish and shrimp.
Unfortunately, this is the slowest time of the year for fish harvesting. However, later this month and in the fall, the Louisiana white shrimp season will open, and volumes will pick up.
This is where Harlon Pearce's initiative for an incentive program comes into play. Many fishermen are burned by their experience with BP and the fishing closures. They have made false starts - i. e. started fishing in one area, only to have to move due to closures. They have been forced into less familiar areas to find fish and shrimp, and the result is that they have become skeptical about being able to make money when the fishery opens again.
In this context, an incentive program could help jump start the fishery - bringing in supply that otherwise will not be there.
Some in the industry have objected. Won't a 30% incentive give Gulf producers an unfair marketing edge. Knowing that they will not have to pay the full cost of shrimp and finfish, will they be able to undercut competitors? This is a false argument.
Market prices will be set by supply and demand, and we already know that there are consumer reactions to high shrimp prices. It is reasonable to expect further declines in shrimp prices as supplies become more plentiful.
But the long term cloud hanging over the industry is consumer suspicion of Gulf seafood. An example was a sign at a seafood festival in Chicago last month saying 'OUR LOBSTER & SHRIMP ARE NOT FROM THE GULF COAST.' This type of response only fans consumer fears of seafood.
One way to alleviate this is through increases in supply. As more Gulf seafood becomes available, more restaurants and retailers can make the case that, yes, this is a normal product, as safe as anything else available. Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh has just begun such a campaign, promoting its Wild American brown shrimp, caught off the coast of Texas. The more supplies are available, the more other sellers will market them with the message that Gulf seafood is safe.
This is what the industry as a whole must support. That is why publicizing the FDA statement is important, and also why there should be broad support for the incentive program proposed by Harlon Pearce.
Louisiana and Gulf seafood is an iconic part of the American seafood marketing and culinary universe, and all of us need it back at full strength as soon as possible.
Founder of Seafood.com News. I have 30 years in the seafood industry. Started in New England. My work with Baader in the 1980's introduced me to the global industry. Started my own Internet business in 1994. Survived the dot com boom / bust by being honest. Partnered with Urner Barry, and built Seafood.com News into our flagship product. Also do a lot of speaking and consulting on market issues, price forecasts and outlook. Currently I work for both harvesters and processors in the crab and shrimp industry in Newfoundland, and the crab industry in Alaska. My personal goal is to contribute to the sustainable growth of the entire seafood industry - which occupies a unique and special place in the lives of everyone who is a part of it.