In the Feb. 17 edition of the Empire, a Petersburg resident wrote to express his concern for Russian processors buying fish from Alaskan fishermen. He summed up one of the basic problems in our salmon industry very eloquently when he said: "Russian fish brokers need to contact an Alaska fish processor for our product."
Perhaps such was the way of doing business a few decades ago, but this is not the case now. If an Alaskan processor is sitting by the phone waiting for a broker to call, by now he either has a sore butt or invested in a more comfortable chair. World supply of salmon has increased substantially. Alaska now produces less than 30 percent of world salmon supply. Brokers could care less that we have problems harvesting so much fish in so little time to keep quality high. There's just too many other places to buy salmon. Alaska's salmon industry is now a niche player on a world market - as are the Alaskan Brewery, Taku Smokeries, and Kake Foods.
Does the Alaskan Brewery wait by the phone for beer brokers to call? Does Taku Smokeries or Kake Foods wait by the phone for smoked salmon brokers to call? I'm pretty sure they don't. These businesses did the unthinkable - faced with high transportation costs to and from Alaska, high competing labor costs with the rest of the U.S. (and the world), and high overhead, they actually researched what the marketplace wanted, started a business, and marketed their products to brokers, instead of waiting for the brokers to come to them. They added new products to their line as demand warranted, and even tried new things. Kake Foods instituted a quality program that requires its seiners to deliver twice a day - if the fish don't meet their quality standards, they simply don't buy them.
If these businesses hear of an interest in beer or smoked salmon from Russia or anywhere else, they will be on the phone all day, everyday to find out what the market wants, how they want it, and when they want it. These companies do this because that's what it takes for them to survive in the world market and to keep themselves and their employees in good-paying jobs. Waiting for a broker to call or for someone to "retool their industry" is not an option in their world.
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