On May 12th, 1944 the legal contract for the formation of our fishermen-owned co-op was signed.
During this month, we’ll share with you the history of our co-op in several stories, starting today with the story of how West Coast fishermen would band together to form our Seafood Producers Cooperative. Thanks to the courage of these original pioneers in 1944, we are here today and you can purchase our fish for home delivery at Alaska Gold Shop. Thank you for being part of our history!
The fishermen-owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative are some of the last producers of a pure, unadulterated wild protein caught using traditional fishing methods on this planet. And our co-op has been instrumental in preserving this unique way of life.
Primary producers of real food, particularly fishermen, have had a long history of being taken advantage of. Fishermen’s guilds started popping up well over 2000 years ago in the effort to protect fishermen from the whims of nature and markets. It is certainly possible that Jesus’s disciples formed part of a fishermen’s guild of a similar sort on the Sea of Galilee. All of these guilds and co-ops were formed with the intent to protect fishermen, but few have had the staying power of our co-op, which has been around for 75 years serving as a bulwark of the West coast fishing community because of a laser focus on quality products and service and serving the fishermen.
More than a way for fishermen to take control of the profits from their catch, our Co-op became a community in which fishermen banded together in order to make their own destinies.
It’s difficult to gauge the wake that our Co-op spurred on the West Coast fishing industry. Before our Co-op existed, fishermen had limited markets for their products. There were plenty of strikes among fishermen in southeast Alaska. Since our Co-op’s inception, there have not been any fishermen strikes in southeast Alaska. What our Co-op brought was a plant that the fishermen would eventually own themselves and the opportunity for fishermen to get more consistently fair prices. In other words, our Co-op became a way for fishermen to earn a living wage for their hard work of producing beautiful fish.
Our Co-op is an organization owned by fishermen, for fishermen. And it allows fishermen to wield their own future. If you speak with any fishermen-owners about why they joined our Co-op or why they’re fishermen, you will undoubtedly hear that they like being their own boss and being the captains of their own destinies. A co-op that the fishermen own with a fishermen board of directors made up of their peers that makes the tough decisions on setting our Co-op’s direction has made it possible for these fishermen to live their ruggedly independent lifestyle their own way.
Since its inception, producers have kept our Co-op alive with a rugged “share the pain, share the gain” mindset. With a sales office in Bellingham, Washington and most fishing operations taking place in southeast Alaska, our Co-op has deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, but there is something quintessentially American about our Co-op, which allows fishermen to be the captains of their own destinies. And that’s what makes our Co-op keep on keeping on.
The growth of our Co-op has been filled with many learning moments. As an organization owned by ruggedly independent producers who make a living on the ocean, it is somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible to make all content. But when we as fishermen return from a long, difficult fishing trip out on the edge and pull into our plant in Sitka, it is our plant waiting to receive our fish. One of the reasons that our Co-op has survived and flourished is our strict adherence to Rochdale’s Seven Principles, which give direction to cooperative organizations. The other reason that our Co-op has flourished is that we have not lost sight of our quality-focused mission.
Quality is the keystone of our Co-op. This tradition of quality began with the very first fishermen’s annual meeting taking place in 1944. An expert was brought in to speak at length on how to improve quality. To this day quality is a pervasive theme in all meetings of the fishermen Board of Directors. Quality is so important to who we are because our organization is built on the pride we have in producing our fish for our company. But our co-op’s reputation built on quality doesn’t derive from just bleeding and icing fish correctly to produce the freshest quality fish, but also having a relationship based on integrity and transparency with our customers.
We really hope that you the enjoy the fruits of our co-op’s labor—you can order our seafood online for home delivery at Alaska Gold Shop. Stay tuned this month for more stories on our co-op, including a story on the special place where we fish, and the stories of the actual producers that form part of our co-op, and more.
The Producer-owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative, whose products are available for home delivery at Alaska Gold Shop