Get some class, Final link and Foods less traveled
By Laine Welch
September 24, 2007
Congress is retooling the U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act, and proposed changes could drastically affect commercial fishing operations.
Popping up in political discussions is reference to fishing boats being classed by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) or a similar 'classification society'.
"Shipping bureaus typically classify international cargo ships, tankers and cruise ships. Not fishing boats," said Joe Childers, president of United Fishermen of Alaska. "It's a process very few people in the fishing industry have ever even heard of."
The American Bureau of Shipping was originally formed in 1862 to certify ship captains. Today it is the third largest class society with a classed fleet of over 10,000 commercial vessels.
"Classed means they've rigorously looked at its structural integrity, its ability to maintain power, propulsion systems, dewatering devices, navigation equipment, the arrangement of the deck machinery, basically everything on the vessel," Childers explained.
Initially the classification requirements will hit boats 50' or greater with smaller vessels exempted until 2018. At that time, all vessels that are 25 years or older will also require classification.
"I believe if this were to go into effect you'd find that a lot of boats fishing today in Alaska would be worthless. They'd be obsolete you wouldn't be able to use them and you wouldn't have a market," Childers said.
The Coast Guard estimates roughly 80,000 commercial fishing boats are operating in the U.S.
The bill to watch in the Coast
Guard Act is HR 2830, coming out of the transportation subcommittee
chaired by Rep. John Rayfield of North Carolina. It is scheduled
for a hearing this session.
Cordova signed off its busiest ever salmon season with a salute to the workers who get all of the guts and little of the glory - the processing workforce.
Seafood workers were tasked extra hard this summer to keep pace with a record 63 million pink salmon catch at Prince William Sound, plus two million sockeyes from the famous Copper River, the third largest red salmon harvest.
Most of the region's fish passes through five large processing plants in Cordova, where from May through September the 'slime line' and dock crews process salmon and halibut into a variety of products.
"It's not just the fishermen and tenders and everyone who is running all this fish around. The final link to the customer is in the hands of the hundreds of processing workers who are here in Cordova," said Torie Baker, a Sea Grant marine advisor. The processing crews hand off the fish to 30 local barge, ferry and airline transporters who send it to markets around the world
To salute their efforts the
City, local Chamber of Commerce, local electric co-op and fishing
organizations pitched in to buy 800 t-shirts commemorating the
record salmon season. Baker said they took extra care to acknowledge
the visiting foreign students who comprise about 20 percent of
The City also issued a proclamation of appreciation to the workers at presentations last week at each of the seafood plants.
"Our crews worked non-stop for months," said Trident manager Bill Gilbert. "I'm certainly proud of what we've been able to accomplish."
Pride aside, Cordova's seafood industry is hopeful that the pat on the back will prompt the processing workers to report for work again next year.
"We hope the shirts and our community show of support will encourage them to return to Cordova," Baker said.
Figures from the state Dept.
of Labor show that year after year Alaska's seafood processing
industry employs the greatest percentage of nonresident workers
of any sector -- more than 14,500 in 2005, accounting for 74
percent of the processing workforce. Nonresidents earned $184.3
million, or nearly 67 percent of the $276.6 million total wages
paid to seafood processing workers.
Americans prefer foods produced in the U.S. - and the closer to home the better. That's been a consistent finding by national polls that are closely tracking consumer attitudes about the safety of our nation's food supply.
An Iowa State University survey released last week said that 85 percent of Americans have confidence in the safety of their local and regional food systems. Just 12 percent feel confident about foods produced anywhere else in the world.
Another poll by the Sacred
Heart University Polling Institute revealed that 80 percent of
Americans are checking food labels for ingredients and origins,
an increase of 16 percent from one year ago.
"That's not the case for other products. Providing that information is more costly, but there is no doubt consumers want it," said Rich Pirog, a Marketing and Food Systems expert at the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State.
Also important: how far foods travel to make it to your plate. "People are starting to look at the carbon footprint of the whole supply chain. It's a trend we're seeing in the U.S.," Pirog said.
Transport by plane produces
the highest carbon emissions, followed by truck, rail and water.
"That's got to have an
advantage over a product that isn't sustainably caught and it
is coming from fisheries half way around the globe. Customers
want to support foods grown in the USA and the fact that there
is still product that is wild caught plays to Alaska's advantage."
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]alaska.com
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