Alaska Gold Seafood is the direct source for seafood delivery from the fishermen-owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative (SPC). SPC is a co-op made up of fishermen. SPC is owned and led by fishermen working to improve their livelihoods and the southeast Alaska community in which they live.
Why Order Seafood from a Fishermen-Owned Co-op?
In the case of many other seafood companies, profits go to shareholders, investors, or other distant corporate entities. In the case of Alaska Gold Seafood, all profits go to the fishermen-owners. We are 100% focused on delivering the best-quality wild-caught seafood. Our quality seafood earns your business, as our quality determines our fate.
As Seafood producers, we feed our customers. Producers feed us. For many of us, food is sacred. It's what we put in our bodies and gives us life. In the case of Seafood Producers Cooperative, our producers risk their lives to bring a pure, wild, minimally processed protein. When we ship fish to you, the ingredients list reads simply "wild salmon" or "halibut." The people behind this food work hard, each bringing their unique style and background to their craft, and put their lives on the line to feed people, yet their share of the profit is modest. Which is why Wendell Berry so rightfully asks, "How can we assume that the world can be fed by an agriculture that continues to assign the greatest risks, the lowest income, and no regard at all to the primary producers?"
Why Direct Seafood Delivery
When you buy fish, your dollar is traditionally shared between four entities: 1) a fisherman, 2) a processor, 3) a wholesaler, and 4) a retailer all touch a fish before it ends up in your hands. Not to mention the investors and managers. For each dollar that you spend on fish, each of these entities takes a cut. And there’s a reason each takes a cut, because they do indeed all work hard to complete the transaction, but traditionally the fishermen’s cut is the smallest.
In general, fishermen produce a whole fish. In the case of salmon, the fisherman might deliver it head-on and gutted, headed and gutted, or in the round (all of the fish), depending on catch and freezing method. Nevertheless, sacrifices are made depending on the circumstances and how much time and space a crew has to properly process a fish on a pitching boat and whether that boat is equipped with a freezer. For this reason, there are processors who typically receive the fish, cut it accordingly into portions or filets, can, smoke, and/or freeze it, box it, and many times ship it to a wholesaler, who most likely specializes in transportation logistics, and has a customer list of fish markets, supermarkets, restaurants and even online marketplaces that fits their mode of transportation.
What the wholesaler has that nobody else has, and is really the key to food sales in a country with over 300 million people, is the ability to distribute that fish efficiently.
This retailer that the wholesaler sells to has access to you the end consumer on your turf. You might be walking through the store picking up eggs and veggies and happen upon the fish case and decide to make fish for dinner or you might be avidly shopping online comparing salmon prices, or at the farmer’s market.
During these four steps, a portion of that dollar is taken by each of these four entities.
A question people rightfully ask is how much of that dollar goes to the fisherman himself? Certainly, many fishermen think it unfair that they deliver seafood to a processor for let’s say $1.00 per pound, and then the fisherman sees that same fish in the store or Pike’s Place Market being sold for $10.00 per pound. This 10 to 1 ratio is a hypothetical situation, but is not too far from what we see in reality.
While fishermen’s gear has modernized and harvesting methods have become more efficient over time, the fishermen’s share of your dollar has declined over time, a fact known by fishermen all too well. In bad years, many fishermen revolt, try to form their own companies, many of which fail, because frequently those 3 other steps to find the people buying the fish and how to get the fish to them are more challenging than we realize. This same plight applies to farmers, syrup harvesters, ranchers, and any other direct producer of food products.
It is conceivable that steps two to four can be skipped when you go direct to the dock and buy an unprocessed fish, or a fish that the fisherman might cut up special for you right there. The fisherman might expect to see all of that $10.00 in such a scenario. However, most people don’t sit on a dock and wait for fishermen to show up. And somebody with enough time on their hands to stalk the docks might expect a significant discount over what they’d pay in the store.
Or a fisherman might go to the farmer’s market, spending time they could be fishing, to gab with people, and sell fish. This puts a face on the product, but the fishermen’s boat hold might fill up with more fish than can be sold, so the farmer’s market might not be the most efficient model—what does the fisherman do with what he doesn’t sell? How does she keep the fish at a proper temperature throughout the process? That fisherman then still needs to get involved in processing, cold storage, and transportation, at least at a small scale, and then comes all of the risks entailed, too.
There are some companies that control all four steps to the consumer or creatively condense these steps. Almost always, the biggest hurdle is transportation. People at home always forget about this part, and certainly underestimate the costs and hard work involved in safely transporting a perishable product. The truckers, couriers, dock loaders and cold storage operators are also unsung heroes in the food industry.
The word “local” is now engrained into the educated food shopper’s mind, but even if the product comes from ten miles away, there is a transportation cost and temperature control to think about. In actuality, many times these small local orders suffer greatly with regard to economies of scale in terms of distribution. It becomes more cost effective to ship 1000 pounds of apples from Washington state to New York City than 100 pounds of apples from rural counties in Washington state to Seattle. Measured by the pound, the former transaction can counterintuitively have less impact on the environment. In addition, local’s nice but it’s also nice to have orange juice, for example, in the middle of winter in Ohio. The same goes for many other products. As far as I know, they don’t grow coffee in Ohio. Or salmon. Why not source wild salmon from 4000 miles away from a state that has sustainable seafood written into the constitution when it can be brought with some efficiency?
Another aspect forgotten in the transaction is processing. If a fish is portioned with bones, viscera, fins, and other non-desirable parts removed, 40 cents of that fishermen’s dollar per pound gets removed, and that’s before the processor is paid. These extra parts might feed a sea lion, a mink farm (lots of these by fish processors), or pet food for pennies on the pound. Not to mention the labor involved with portioning—most is still done by hand and requires expertise. Joe on his first day on the job is not going to be nearly as good as Mary, who has been cutting fish her whole life. Then there’s packaging, labeling, all the jumping through hoops required by regulatory agencies—important hoops so that consumers know what they’re getting, even in an age when much seafood in stores, even more in restaurants, comes mislabeled.
When you start penciling out transportation and processing costs, you can quickly see how that dollar per pound to the fisherman can quickly become ten dollars. Another aspect quickly forgotten, but that the retailer must keep constant vigilance over, is spoilage. If the retailer is working with “fresh never frozen” fish, there might be 30% of it that doesn’t get sold or has to be sold for a big discount. This spoilage factors greatly into that end retailer’s price.
Frozen Wild-Caught Seafood
The other way around this spoilage problem is freezing the fish. We wish more end consumers would realize that in many cases the frozen fish is superior to the “fresh never frozen” fish. Given freezing technologies and good vigilance, that frozen fish can be kept for quite some time. Also, it literally kills fishermen to walk by a seafood case in the supermarket and watch (and smell) fish dying. Smart consumers are seeing that the fish in the frozen case can be many times “fresher” than what’s in the “fresh” case. There’s no hard and fast rule—a fish’s quality is going to depend on a number of factors. Firstly, you have to start with a good fish. Catch methods, boat sanitation, processing methods, freezing methods, temperature control, all play an important role in the quality of the fish. There are frozen fish that have been out of the water for three years that is much better than most of what you get in a “fresh” case at the supermarket.
So back to the dollar per pound that the fishermen earns. That’s gross revenue. What about the $40 a salmon troller spends on a 50-pound cannonball lead weight for each of his lines? The leader? Trolling wire? Bait? Fuel? Paint for the boat each season? Engine maintenance? Permits? Quota? Association fees? That one dollar quickly becomes a few dimes at best. Winter jobs are necessary for the budding fisherman to make due. Fortunately, our fishermen have winter kings to chase, but it’s a brutal slog through 30-knot winds, cold rain and snow.
At sea, the only absolute is uncertainty. On land, the office people deal in absolutes. Everything is more black and white. Office people sell fish for more than what they bought it at. A figure can be penciled at what price per pound will pay the employees doing the books, and keeping track of orders and maybe just maybe make the company money. In our case, as a co-op, the profit goes to the fishermen who own and democratically run the co-op. Which also puts risk into the picture for these owners. So, our business on one end is absolute and on the other it’s uncertain. What’s really certain is that we work in an industry that is absolutely uncertain—the food industry in general or any other industry that depends on nature is precarious, wild and exciting and we wouldn’t have it any other way. As a producer-owned co-op our mission is making sure that quality-oriented fishermen get the best return for their hard work. By supporting the small boat fishing community we also create a market to ensure that fish caught the right way, sustainably harvested fish, finds its way to people’s homes.