Fishing co-op finds way to get more bang for its buck

Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2005

Members of the Olga/Moser Bay Seafood Producers Alliance have every reason to be hopeful after their second successful year marketing their salmon cooperatively.

The group of set gillnet fishermen find that about 7 percent of their fish caught in the nets remain alive. For the past two summers, those fish have been handled with kid gloves and then shipped fresh on Andrew Airways three times a week to Chicago wholesaler Plitt Seafoods.

Plitt sells seafood to high-end markets, such as restaurants and seafood outlets.

The remaining fish are also carefully handled and sold to Plitt Seafoods in Alaska. Plitt hired a floating processor to facilitate the process.

"They're very pleased with the quality," said longtime fisherman and co-op member Bill Barker. "For the first time ever that I know of on Kodiak, we had a floating processor, the Alpine Cove, processing on the grounds for six weeks."

More than 120,000 pounds of salmon were processed and frozen.

"Those fish are now into the markets and the response we're getting back is incredible," he said, citing comments the co-op received such as, "It's the best product we've ever gotten out of Alaska."

OMBSPA received an economic development grant from the state this year and with it purchased an ice machine. The ice machine was put on the Alpine Cove so when it moved around picking up fish from the set gillnet sites, it dropped off ice.

"That really worked well for us," Barker said.

The frozen product brought OMBSPA a nickel above the grounds price.

"Whatever the canneries were getting on the ground, we were getting 5 cents above that," Barker said, adding he was getting up to $2.12 a pound for reds.

Andrew Airways has worked with the processors for the second year.

"Those people are a major link in this thing and they're just doing their job - but they do it well," he said.

"It comes back to the thing we were striving for last year and continue to strive for - the quality of the fish. A quality fish is what maintains and holds that market.

"In time, people start to ask for your fish because of the quality. Then the supply-and-demand thing kicks in and you can start realizing more of a profit out of your product," Barker said.

Bob Sullivan, president of Plitt Seafoods, said they sell the fish to about 1,200 accounts.

"This fish has just been phenomenal for us. I had some recently at one of our restaurants and I couldn't believe that it was frozen fish. These guys did a tremendous job," Sullivan said.

"Some of the most famous chefs out in the Midwest are using this product. They're loving it," he said.

Hiring the floating processor was a good idea, he said.

"There is nothing about the Olga/Moser Bay operation that we have going with these guys that is a bad idea. It is an interesting group - they keep trying."

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