How a Fishermen’s Co-op Lives the 7 Cooperative Principles | Alaska Gold Seafood

When you buy wild seafood from a producer-owned cooperative, you buy your fish from the producers. Your fish goes from the water to your plate in the most direct path possible. We, the producers, are the owners of the cooperative and take great pride in getting the best quality wild seafood to our customers.

The fisherman’s life is notoriously a difficult one. Being at the mercy of the seas makes working together so crucial. So we’ve banded together to make it easier. And that’s why we’re part of a cooperative, which just happens to be the oldest fishermen-owned cooperative in North America.

Working together in a co-op means that there is a better chance for us to achieve sustainable harvests and livelihoods. Sustainability for us means ensuring there are enough fish to feed and support our work for generations to come.

Co-ops have a unique way of doing business that offer producers the best of both worlds, giving us the opportunity to work independently, the way we producers work best, but while also providing a space for us to pull our resources together to achieve a higher goal.

Here are the 7 cooperative principles used by co-ops around the world and how they apply to a producer-owned cooperative like Seafood Producers Cooperative (SPC).

1. Voluntary and Open Ownership
Our producer-owned co-op is open to producers who accept the responsibilities of ownership and therefore share our values and follow our adherence to quality.

2. Democratic Owner Control
Our producer-owned co-op is managed by our owners. We the producers  are the owners who vote to make important decisions about how to pursue our future. In this way, we remain independent.

3. Owners’ Economic Participation
Owners contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. We producers decide how to invest capital. For example, pulling our capital together helps us get the most state of the art cooling technologies and the best processing equipment available.

Since 1944, all investments, whether small or large, short or long term, have been with one purpose, and that purpose is to better serve the needs of the cooperative’s owners…

The producers.

Being part of a cooperative helps producers save as much as possible on gear purchases, vessel costs, and insurance. As a cooperative, the whole is better than the sum of the parts.

Generations of SPC producers have benefited from the stability that the cooperative offers us. We fishermen are living a unique way of life–a rugged, independent life. Co-ops have a unique way of business that offers us the best of both worlds, giving us the opportunity to work independently, the way we producers work best, but also being able to band together to get state of the art equipment that helps us produce the best fish possible. Being with a co-op makes our dreams possible.

4. Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives give us producers the autonomy and independence we so enjoy out on the seas. We are the captains of our destiny and we make decisions to support each other. As a co-op of small-scale producers, we work on a smaller scale and have a deeper connection with the ocean than larger corporations that use mass extraction methods. We revere traditional approaches to fishing that don’t do long-term damage to fisheries and the ocean. Working on a smaller scale means that we can be more transparent. We can look customers in the eye and tell them where we fished and how we fished.

5. Education, Training and Information
Our producer-owned cooperative provides education and training to our owners for how to process fish with the strictest adherence to quality standards. Our educational program on quality gives our owners key insights into how to produce the highest quality fish. SPC holds the highest standards of its owners and makes it possible for all owners to share techniques so that together we can achieve the highest standards of quality.

6. Cooperation among Cooperatives
As a producer-owned cooperative, it’s important for us to work with other co-ops. We believe it’s important to bring our high quality fish to food co-ops and we will work with other co-ops to help us all achieve higher goals.

7. Concern for Community
We have and will generously offer fish and/or time to causes in the communities within which we work that align with ours. Such causes include work with the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, the Sitka Seafood Festival, the Prince of Wales Marathon, the United States Coast Guard, and the Southeast Alaska State Fair.

Our Concern for Community extends to how we fish.

In addition to our sustainable methods of fishing, we also are the Eyes of the Ocean. SPC producers like Dick Curran use their vessels to clean up the ocean in a further effort to be good stewards of the resource that provides for their livelihood.  Dick and his family – partner Tory and her two daughters – use their boat the F/V Cherokee to participate in the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation Marine Debris Cleanup project with the support of SPC. During the break between fishing the Gulf of Alaska and before outfitting for the Chatham black cod fishery, Dick and his family have removed nearly 30,000 pounds of plastics and marine debris from remote coastal beaches that would have been harmful to local wildlife.

This sort of concern for community is what cooperatives are all about. SPC’s dedication to cooperating with causes that matter, the communities within which we work, and with other like-minded organizations is the spirit of cooperatives.