SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Get some class, Final link and Foods less traveled
By Laine Welch


September 24, 2007
Monday PM

Get some class

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.

Final link

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 workforce.
"We had 'thank you' translated into ten languages," Baker said.

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.

Foods less traveled

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 a plus for U.S. seafood because by law, all fresh and frozen products must be labeled with its country of origin, and if it is wild or farmed.

"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.
Pirog said Alaska seafood has a "good environmental track record" and that could help trump consumer concerns over travel miles.

"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."


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. 2007 marks the 16th year that she has been writing this weekly fisheries column. It now appears in nearly 20 newspapers and web outlets.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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Ketchikan, Alaska