Ready or not, the Season approaches

We’re under an overcast sky of uncertainty here this
season. King salmon prices are at all time high
prices. Interest in our king salmon has always been
high until now, as our prices seem to have exceeded
the price tolerance of our customers, even though our
pricing is still less than what’s out there on the
market. So, we’ve retreated from putting fish in the
freezer, and now are just delivering fresh fish and
only buying what we need for delivery.

If it were not for the high salmon prices, however,
there might be few fish available at all, as fuel
prices are so high that the high fish prices are the
only way many fishermen can afford to go fishing this
time of year, when they’re only catching one salmon
species. When the coho salmon show up, then the
poundage of salmon caught per gallon of fuel burned
will go down, but prices will likely decline somewhat
as well.

My state regulators have shut down much of our
anticipated business plan. As a troller, I dressed
(i.e., gilled and gutted) all my fish on board my boat
and iced them, as this is the way to achieve top
quality. All my fish then went through a licensed
fish processor as required by law. When I sold my
boat, I planned to buy fish right out of the water in
the round from boats, dress and ice them aboard my
tender vessel as I did my troller, and deliver them to
the same processor for butchering and packaging.
This is the same process of moving fish from the water
to the processor as occurred aboard my own boat, but
the state says since it’s not me that caught the fish,
I cannot dress the fish aboard my tender unless I get
a processing license, even though all my fish will go
through a processor again. A processing license
requires an investment of hundreds of thousands of
dollars to buy a vessel and equipment to meet the
license requirments. This would mean I’d have to run
lots and lots of fish through just to pay the overhead
– if, and only if I already had markets lined up for
millions of pounds of fish. Of course, this also
means I would not be able to care for each fish as I
do now, and therefore, I’d be a high volume,
commodity-grade operation like the rest of the
processors in the state, and therefore lose the niche
I have now.

I went through every appeal process, and was denied,
but not based on any sort of science, just politics,
and the ease of saying “no” rather than trying to work
with a tiny, high-quality producing operator like me
that actually lives and operates here in the state.
I’ve written the governor, but with an 89% approval
rating and a gas line trying to get built, I can
understand why a solitary fish buyer cannot be on her
agenda right now.

So, I’ve thrown in my lot with another catcher boat
who is essentially in the same boat as I was – he
needs more high quality salmon to meet his market
demand, but can’t get them due to the same state

The state is just pushing more fish into the
“commodity” grade by their inflexibility – and this is
the fish that is on an exponential growth curve of
growth for reprocessing in China. And many of the
companies shipping our salmon and jobs to China for
reprossessing are companies that were awarded
marketing grants from the federal government – i.e.,
US taxpayers are now paying to move our fish and jobs
to China. The more fish that goes to China, the more
jobs we lose here, and the bigger potential for some
sort of contamination when the fish returns to our
markets from China, as we’ve seen recently with pet
and human foods, as well as toothpaste. Just think
what that will do to the Alaskan seafood industry if
our seafood returns to the US for sale is found to be
contaminated – it could be a panic. Maybe if we can
stick around long enough, that could actually drive
more people to buy from us, but neither I nor my
partner can meet our market demand, so we’ll be right
back where we are now.

I’m going to deckhand with him, and buy his pink
salmon and as much of the sockeye as he can spare (not
much) and no king salmon, as there are never enough of
those as long as the price is right. I taught him my
handling techniques, and so it will be an easy
transition working for him as we’ll both be on the
same page of quality first, volume second book of
salmon harvest.

We’ll do the best I can, and who knows, maybe find a
new path. I’m back at a fulltime job with the state
health survey lab, but am allowed to continue fishing
during my off days, so we’ll see how durable this
tired body of 43 years holds up during a couple months
of 7 days a week, 16 hour days. Funny thing is, I can
hardly wait……

Mark Stopha and Sara Hannan
Alaska Wild Salmon Company
Wild Salmon and Salmon Pet Treats
4455 N. Douglas Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801

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