Norm Pillen is the beloved President of Seafood Producers Cooperative (SPC). He has been a fishermen-owner of the co-op since 1987. Norm is well-known and appreciated by our small boat fleet because of his openness and approachability.
Norm started his fishing career as a salmon troller and considers himself a “troller at heart,” but moved on to longlining for halibut and black cod. And then he captained the Sea Lion, a tender for SPC during salmon season.
Norm is a big believer in communication, which has made him successful as a leader. He knows and understands people and what it takes to make it as a fisherman. He also knows what is unique about our offerings. He is a big believer in quality--"we want people to want and prefer our products and that comes down to quality."
And that's what makes the seafood from Alaska Gold special. That pride in quality that Norm notes. That we catch each fish one fish one hook at a time means that each fish is in spectacular condition when we deliver to the consumer.
When looking at his fishing career, Norm notes: “In general, I prefer salmon trolling. To me, it’s art, poetry in motion. It’s such a beautiful craft when it’s done right. There are more variables. There’s friendly competition when you’re trolling for salmon. It’s more exciting…Even when we’re using 100-pound test leader, if you let any slack in the line, a big king salmon can break the line and you lose the fish and the gear and that’s heartbreaking. What’s special about trolling is that you handle every fish you catch. I count 13 times that you handle the fish from start to finish when I fished on our freezer boat the Katie J. And trollers that have pride in what they do take great care to make sure that during each ‘touch’ the fish is softly handled, with great care, avoiding scale loss, to produce a great quality product. We have a responsibility to each fish.”
To diversify his fishing business, Norm moved to fishing for halibut and black cod in 2000. He owned the Sherrie Marie, a modified gulf shrimper built in Palacios, Texas in 1967.
Norm then operated the Sea Lion, a power scow built in 1946 for the Alaska Packers Association, as a tender boat for Seafood Producers Cooperative during salmon season. Operating a tender allowed Norm to really get to know our fleet of small boat fishermen who came to deliver their fish to the Sea Lion. When he tendered, Norm started early in March and fishing for halibut and black cod, then moved to the Sea Lion in July for the heart of the salmon season. “Long lining for halibut and black cod is a little more repetitious,” Norm says. “It’s more about finding fish, fighting currents and winds to do really repetitious work. I wouldn’t bring children long lining—if we’re fishing black cod, we could be 10-25 miles, up to 100 miles out to sea following the continental shelf. Operating the Sea Lion is much safer. I’m harbored up every night. I can spend more time with family. I also get to see all of my fishing friends when they deliver to the tender. I’ve been involved with the fleet a long time. I know people and get to see them more often when I’m tendering.”
And now Norm is President of Seafood Producers Cooperative (SPC). You can see him on the docks at our Sitka, Alaska processing plant, greeting fishermen when they return from a fishing trip.
Being a co-op member for over 30 years has taught Norm that you have to look at the long term. Talking about what’s unique about SPC, Norm says “for an institution to be around for 75 plus years, like SPC, you’ve got to be conservative when making decisions, but you’ve also got to make bold moves to evolve with the times. It’s a fine balance. We’ve got to do it all without losing sight of our quality-focused mission. As an owner-based company, it’s an inherent risk to be an owner of the co-op, just as it is for any business owner, but we as fishermen are also in charge of something much bigger than when we are when working on our own. It’s our company!”
Norm was born in Michigan, but considers himself Alaskan, as he moved to Kasaan Bay, near Ketchikan, at age 10. At 15, he moved to Port Alexander, on the southern tip of Baranof Island, which is the primary location where he harbors the Sea Lion to serve SPC members who deliver salmon to him.
A while back Norm sent us via Facebook a video of fishing for black cod on the Sherrie Marie. It was a rare combination of good weather, good fishing, good mood, and good music on the boat. The comments it generated from fellow SPC members on Facebook showed a lot about the camaraderie that the co-op is known for. Long time SPC fisherman-owner Becky Haun perfectly described the video and what it’s like to be a fisherman on a good day: “Flat, calm, sunny, good music to shuffle with, fish on every hook … a perfect day in paradise with Normie and a happy crew. THE BEST SEAFOOD IN THE WORLD! From a bunch of pretty extraordinary independent spirits.”
The Sea Lion, a happy sight for SPC fishermen.