Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fresh Fish and Tin Ears

As we go to press, we’re wrapping up this year’s successful Wild Seafood Exchange, produced by Fishermen’s News in partnership with Washington Sea Grant.

The 2011 conference, sponsored by Nichols Bros. Boat Builders, the Port of Seattle and Trace Register, consisted of four panels, made up of panelists whose field of expertise included restaurant management, direct marketing, processing and distribution and vessel construction financing.

After a continental breakfast and networking opportunity, the first panel, moderated by Fishermen’s News Publisher Peter Philips and made up of Robert Spaulding, Executive Chef of Elliott’s Oyster House and Peter Birk, Executive Chef of Ray’s Boathouse, addressed issues such as sustainability and pricing.

The chefs described what they look for in wild seafood products and vendors, including which species are desirable, how much they use and how they like to work with suppliers.

Both chefs work with four or five suppliers of fish, increasing to as many as eight different suppliers during the summer months.

Peter Birk stressed that quality was paramount and noted that during the summer months Ray’s Boathouse returned 30 to 40 percent of fish delivered.

The second panel, Successful Direct Marketing Operations, was moderated by Pete Granger of Washington Sea Grant, and addressed setting up a successful direct marketing operation, effective sales techniques, and how to manage harvesting and delivery of a wild seafood product.

Panelists included Andy Furner, of Trace Register, Joe Malley, of the F/V St. Jude and Karen Edwards of Island Wild Seafoods.

Andy Furner described how his service, Trace Register, a web-based application that producers, buyers, marketers, and regulators use to track products through the supply chain, could be used by fishermen and restaurants to “attach” data about a product, via barcode or other identifying number, to provide information on that product to the end user- in this case a customer at a restaurant.

Furner demonstrated how a diner could scan a barcode on his menu with his smart phone and discover where the fish on the menu was caught, by whom, the name of the vessel and other significant information.

Joe Malley and Karen Edwards described some of their successful direct marketing campaigns, including a powerful web presence.

After a buffet luncheon, which included roundtable discussions on selling to restaurants, financing a new vessel, design and construction questions and marketing via the internet, Pete Granger moderated a panel on Processing and Distributing.

Panelists Flip Sturdivant of Select Fish/Whole Foods, Tom Hassenauer of Food Services of America and Johnpaul Davies of Port Townsend-based Key City Fish addressed issues related to getting the product from the net to the customer.

The final panel of the day addressed Vessel Construction Financing. Banks are again interested in lending to independent fishermen, and the panel, moderated by Bruce King, of Garvey Shubert Barer, looked at different public funding sources available to the independent fisherman. Panelists included Matt Nichols, of Nichols Bros. Boatbuilders, Chris Eckels, of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Roy Wallace, from Banner Bank and Erik Houser, with the Northwest Business Development Association (NWBDA).

Panelists addressed issues such as how to determine what financing solution is best for you, and how to prepare a plan that is attractive to the lender.

Matt Nichols told the attendees that the best thing a prospective boatbuilding client can do is have a complete set of well-defined plans at the start of construction. He noted that change orders are costly not only for the client, but for the yard as well, creating delays that potentially affect the yard’s future projects.

Other interesting topics in the final discussion included a Federal government-backed loan program that offers up to 40 percent of the financing to build a new vessel, along with up to 50 percent conventional financing, allowing a fisherman to put only 10 percent toward a new vessel.

The one-day conference opened with keynote speaker and natural resource economist Dr. Hans Radtke, Ph.D., who discussed the economic benefits of commercial fishing to Washington State. His paper was excerpted in this space last month, and our readers already understand the benefits of commercial fishing to the Washington State economy.

Those benefits are, sadly, lost on at least one Port of Seattle commissioner.

Last month, the Port held a “media roundtable” in which only five media representatives were present, handpicked by the Port of Seattle. Those present included two representatives from one local television station, a representative of the Seattle Times, a university radio station and a neighborhood blogger.

The commercial fishing industry was not invited, nor were any representatives of the maritime media.

During the roundtable, Seattle Port commissioner John Creighton made the following statement:

“You look at Fishermen’s Terminal- We’re gonna have to invest millions of dollars in the next few years. I’m sure you know we have fishing net sheds that basically have been, not quite condemned by the Seattle Fire Department but, um, you know we’ve been told we have to rebuild those. Well that’s going to cost millions of dollars, and yet you look at the fishing industry for the next decade, um, you know the fish stocks are dwindling, so how can we make that big investment important to our community, important to our culture and our history and also remain nimble enough to be able to generate revenue and jobs out of it well into the future if things change.”

No one present corrected Commissioner Creighton, who seemed to be setting the terminal up for some future, non-fishing development. No one, including three other port commissioners or the five media representatives in the room knew enough about the West Coast fishing industry to contradict Mr. Creighton’s false assertion that the fishing industry was doomed. Instead, the Seattle Times reported the false assertion, and Commissioner Creighton is “…very pleased at the thought provoking input we received…”
Rather than correct the assertion, Commissioner Creighton wonders whether Philips Publishing Group would be interested in sponsoring the Port of Seattle’s centennial party.

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